“This new variant is distinct from prior variants including the beta and delta variants, but it is not known if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous” — Paul Ebeling
The Big Q: What Is This Latest COVID Variant in South Africa?
The Big A: South African scientists have identified a new version of the coronavirus this wk that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It is unclear where the new variant actually arose, but it was 1st detected by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.
The Health Minister said the variant is linked to an “exponential rise” of cases in the last few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant: B.1.1.529 is responsible.
It appears to have 30 mutations in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which is thought affect how easily it spreads to people.
The data so far suggest the new variant has mutations consistent with enhanced transmissibility, the significance of many of the mutations is still not known.
This new variant is distinct from prior variants including the beta and delta variants, but it is not known if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous.
It is impossible to make any predictions about whether or not the virus is more dangerous or infectious based on its genetic make-up.
The World Health Organization (WHO) convened a technical group of experts to decide whether the new variant warrants being designated a variant of interest or a variant of concern.
Variants of interest, which currently include the mu and lambda variants have genetic changes known to affect things like transmissibility and disease severity and have been identified to cause significant clusters in multiple countries.
Variants of concern, which include alpha, beta and delta have shown they can spread more easily, cause more serious disease or make current tools like vaccines less effective.
To date, the delta variant remains the most transmissible form of COVID; it accounts for more than 99% of sequences shared with the world’s biggest public database.
Have a healthy, prosperous weekend, Keep the Faith!