New COVID-19 variant found in South Africa sparks travel restrictions and an anxious wait for data

johannesburg – a potentially dangerous new strain of coronavirus The virus is scaring scientists around the world and prompting governments to ban travelers from southern African countries. version was earlier found in south africa, where scientists flagged it off to the global health community.

As CBS News correspondent Deborah Patta reports, there is serious concern among experts that the new strain could bring back the fight against the pandemic.

South African officials say the variant, which has more mutations than previously identified strains that have emerged around the world, marks a “huge jump in evolution” of the virus since the global health crisis began two years ago.

The concern, according to public health expert Professor Salim Abdul Karim, is that it may be more permeable and or more resistant to current vaccine formulas.

“If this version follows, or is more permeable than delta version‘It would be very difficult to predict, to do anything different from what we’ve seen, that this would develop and spread around the world,’ he told CBS News.

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South African scientists are working round the clock this week to determine how bad the new version, so far being referred to only as B.1.1. Lab results are just a few weeks away.

But despite the World Health Organization’s call for a “risk-based and scientific approach” as it urged nations not to adopt travel restrictions yet, some countries decided not to wait for a detailed scientific analysis. Britain, France and Israel have canceled direct flights to and from South Africa and surrounding countries.

So far less than 100 cases of the new variant have been confirmed, mainly among young people in South Africa, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

South Africa calls British travel ban 'early' over new COVID-19 version
A passenger wearing a face mask is seen in a taxi in Soweto, South Africa on November 26, 2021, following the announcement of a British and French ban on flights to and from the country due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant.

sifive cibeco/Reuters

Botswana and Hong Kong also recently confirmed cases in travelers who returned from South Africa, and on Friday, Israel said three people who had just returned from abroad were infected with the strain. One of those patients came from Malawi, but Israeli officials did not say where the other two had come from. All three were kept in mandatory isolation on Friday.

Health officials in South Africa said the response from other countries was premature, noting how little is yet understood about the new strain. Karim noted that this was only detected thanks to South Africa’s excellent scientific surveillance of COVID-19 cases, which particularly hunt for new forms. Few other countries have such a robust genomic sequencing program to find strains.

“It’s true that other countries may not have the same level of diligence,” he told CBS News, meaning that other nations, “may have new versions like this one or the other. They don’t know about it.” . “

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Since the first coronavirus vaccines became available more than a year ago, the WHO and public health experts around the world have warned that if doses are not shared with developing countries, even well-vaccinated countries Is will be at risk As new, potentially more dangerous forms are replaced – and vulnerable human hosts – they need to evolve.

Less than 7% of the total population of the African continent has been vaccinated so far rising pressure On pharmaceutical companies and the wealthiest countries to address the huge imbalance in vaccine distribution.

Pfizer partner BioNTech said on Friday it was already studying the efficacy of the companies’ COVID vaccine formula against the new strain.

“We expect more data from laboratory tests in the latest two weeks,” a BioNTech spokesman told French news agency AFP. “These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 may be an escaped variant that may require adjustments to our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”


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