Home South African Serious concern as scientists confirm detection of new Covid-19 variant

Serious concern as scientists confirm detection of new Covid-19 variant

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The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has confirmed that a new Covid-19 variant, B.1.1.529, has been detected and it is causing serious concern.

A man covered with a face mask walks near long street in Cape Town. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town – The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has confirmed that a new Covid-19 variant, B.1.1.529, has been detected and it is causing serious concern.

Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) bioinformatics scientist Professor Tulio de Oliveira said the variant has also been identified in Botswana, and in Hong Kong, involving a traveller from South Africa.

The variant, which was discovered through the collaborative efforts of private laboratories and NGS-SA members, is said to have a high number of mutations. “What we see is this very unusual constellation of mutations, multiple mutations across the genome with more than 30 mutations,

“The Delta variant, which was responsible for the deadly third wave, had two mutations, while the Beta had three,” De Oliveira said.

“This is concerning for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility, and this variant may already be present in most provinces.

“It’s very important to understand that even though the variant was detected here it doesn’t mean that this variant is from South Africa.”

Twenty-two positive cases of the variant, which scientists say will be soon given a Greek alphabet letter as a label, have been recorded in the country.

NICD acting director Professor

Adrian Puren said: “It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa. Although the data is limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date.”

As to whether the government is planning new restrictions after the emergence of the variant, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the matter still had to be discussed in various government forums, but there would be more clarity over the weekend.

Phaahla added: “We know that if more people are vaccinated we can limit the number of mutations. However, there’s less uptake from the 18-35 cohort, with only 26% of them being vaccinated. We are worried as this outbreak affects young people.”

On reports that South Africa had asked Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to delay delivery of Covid-19 vaccines because it had too much stock, acting health director-general Dr Nicholas Crisp said South Africa had 16.5 million doses of vaccine at the moment, with another 2.5 million doses to be delivered this week.

“For some time now we have been deferring our deliveries, not decreasing our orders, but just deferring our deliveries so that we don’t accumulate and stockpile vaccines that become a risk for us to manage … But if we do have an uptake now, we can assure the public that there is plenty of vaccine.

“We can also assure the public that we have way more capacity to vaccinate people than we have people coming in for vaccination.”

NICD public health surveillance and response head Dr Michelle Groome said provincial health authorities were on high alert and prioritising the sequencing of Covid-19-positive samples. She stressed the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“Individual compliance to preventative measures can have a great collective impact in limiting the spread of the new variant,” Groome said.

Detected cases were increasing quickly, particularly in Gauteng, the North West and Limpopo.

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Cape Argus

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