a new COVID-19 version With a large number of mutations detected in South Africa, it has caused concern among scientists and triggered travel restrictions by several countries amid fears of coronavirus transmission.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said that 22 new positive cases have been registered in the country after genomic sequencing. The news of the announcement came on Thursday.
South African Health Minister Joe Fahla said the version was behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat”.
What do we know about the new version?
Scientists have said that the new COVID-19 variant, called B.184.108.40.2069, has a very unusual constellation of mutations, which is worrying because they help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more permeable. can.
Scientists in South Africa have detected more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, which is part of the virus that helps create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells.
Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, said this version has stunned experts. “This is a huge leap forward in evolution, many more mutations than we expected,” de Oliveira said.
“One piece of good news is that it can be detected by PCR testing”, de Oliveira said.
The mutations are associated with increased antibody resistance, which makes the virus more contagious.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was “closely monitoring” the reported version and expected a meeting on Friday to determine whether to designate it as “of interest” or “concern”. should be done.
Are the vaccines for COVID-19 effective against the new version?
covid-19 vaccines The original coronaviruses are based on spike proteins, raising concerns that the new dramatically different spike proteins could make vaccines less effective.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Head of Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis, said on Thursday that “the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it could have an impact on how the virus behaves.”
“It will take a few weeks for us to understand how this variant has an effect on any potential vaccine,” Van Kerkhove said.
Any new variant capable of evading vaccines or spreading faster than the now-dominant delta version could pose a significant threat as the world emerges from the pandemic.
But Professor Helen Rees of the WHO’s African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group urged people not to panic.
,[Currently] We are trying to identify how widely it is spread. It will take a lot of work to see: is it more permeable? Is it related to some other severity of the disease? Does it make vaccines less effective?” Rees told Al Jazeera.
“Meanwhile, we have a big request to the world in terms of vaccination of the African region, please get the vaccines in this region because the variants as we know do not live in one country,” she said.
detection and response
This variant has spread rapidly in South Africa’s Gauteng province, which is home to the economic center Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.
A total of about 50 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. Confirmed cases were detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa.
In response, Britain banned all travel from the country and five other southern African countries, namely Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, starting at noon local time on Friday.
Israel also announced on Thursday that it was barring its citizens from traveling to South Africa. It also includes Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini on its highest-risk travel list.
The EU executive has proposed halting air travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of the new variant.
Has the infection rate increased?
The number of daily infections in Africa’s hardest-hit country has increased 10 times since the start of the month.
The NICD said the number of cases detected and the percentage of testing positive is “increasing rapidly” in the country’s three provinces, including Gauteng.
The NICD did not attribute the latest resurgence to the new version, although some scientists suspect this may be the reason.
The daily number of infections in the country rose to 1,200 on Wednesday, up from 106 in the prior month.
Before detecting the new version, officials had predicted a fourth wave in South Africa ahead of the festive season starting mid-December.
South Africa has the highest number of pandemics in Africa with around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 are fatal.
Last year, a beta version of the virus first emerged in South Africa, although so far its infection numbers have been driven by Delta.
About 41 percent of adults have received at least one dose, while 35 percent are fully vaccinated. Those numbers are well above the continental average of 6.6 percent of people who are vaccinated.