South African scientists detect new virus variants during peak period

South Africa’s Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, announced on Thursday that a new variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in South Africa. Scientists said the variant is worrying because of the large number of mutations and the presence in Gauteng, the country’s most populous. Spread rapidly among young people in the province.

Coronaviruses evolve as they spread, and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, usually disappear. Scientists monitor possible changes that may be more contagious or lethal, but it may take time to determine whether the new mutation will have an impact on public health.

Phaahla said in an online press conference that the number of new infections in South Africa has increased dramatically.

“In the past four or five days, there has been an exponential increase,” he said, adding that new variants seem to be driving a surge in cases. Scientists in South Africa are working to determine the percentage of new cases caused by new variants.

He said that it is currently identified as B.1.1.529, and this new variant has also been found among South African travelers in Botswana and Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization’s technical working group will meet on Friday to evaluate the new variant and may decide whether to give it a Greek letter name.

The British government announced that from noon on Friday (1200 GMT), flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries will be banned, and anyone who has recently arrived from these countries will be tested for coronavirus.

British Health Minister Sajid Javid said there are concerns that this new variant “may be more contagious than the main delta strain” and that “the vaccine we currently have may not be effective against it.”

Tulio de Oliveira of the South African Genome Surveillance Network said that this new variant has a series of new mutations, and he has been tracking the spread of the delta variant in the country.

De Oliveira said: “A lot of mutations are a problem in predicting immune evasion and spread.”

He said: “This new variant has many, many mutations,” including more than 30 spike proteins that affect transmission. “We can see that this variant may spread very quickly. We do expect that in the next few days and weeks, the healthcare system will begin to be under pressure.”

De Oliveira said a team of scientists from seven universities in South Africa is studying this variant. He said they have 100 whole genomes and expect to have more in the next few days.

“We are worried about the evolutionary jump of this variant,” he said. He said that the good news is that it can be detected by a PCR test.

After a relatively low transmission period, the number of new confirmed cases recorded in South Africa every day is only slightly more than 200. In the past week, the number of new cases per day has rapidly increased to more than 1,200 on Wednesday. On Thursday, they jumped to 2,465.

Health Minister Phaahla said that the first surge occurred in Pretoria and the surrounding Tshwane metropolitan area, and it appeared to be a cluster of university student gatherings in the area. As the number of cases increased, scientists studied genome sequencing and discovered new mutations.

Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “This is obviously a mutation that we must take very seriously.” “It has a large number of spike mutations that may affect infectivity and immune response. .”

Gupta said it will take time for scientists in South Africa to determine whether the surge in new cases is attributable to the new mutation. “It is very likely that this is the case,” he said. “South African scientists have done an excellent job of quickly determining this and bringing it to the world’s attention.”

Phaahla said South African officials have warned that a new recovery is expected from mid-December to early January and hopes to prepare for this by getting more people vaccinated.

Approximately 41% of adults in South Africa are vaccinated, and the number of vaccines injected daily is relatively small, less than 130,000 times, which is far below the government’s target of 300,000 times a day.

The Acting Director-General of South Africa’s National Health Department, Nicholas Crisp, stated that South Africa currently has about 16.5 million doses of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the country, and it is expected that about 250 will be delivered next week. Ten thousand doses of vaccine.

Crisp said: “We are getting vaccines faster than we are currently using them.” “So for some time, we have been postponing deliveries instead of reducing orders, but just postponing deliveries so as not to accumulate and store vaccines. .”

South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases and more than 89,000 deaths.

To date, the delta variant is still the most contagious, and has squeezed out other once worrying variants, including alpha, beta, and mu. According to the sequence submitted to the world’s largest public database by countries in the world, more than 99% are deltas.

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