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WHO discusses new Covid variant with 'unusual' mutations in Southern Africa

The new variant, called B.1.1529, carries an unusually large number of mutations, says an expert

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

World Health Organization officials met on Thursday to discuss a new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa and Botswana.
 
The new variant, called B.1.1529, carries an unusually large number of mutations, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a statement published by the Science Media Centre. It’s likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, he said.

“It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage,” Balloux said. “For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future.”

South Africa has detected 22 cases of the variant, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement.

“It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa,” NICD Acting Executive Director Adrian Puren said in the statement. “Although the data are 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.”

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier it will meet South African officials next week to discuss a new variant in the country. 

Detected cases and percent testing positive are both increasing quickly, particularly in most populated province of Gauteng, North West and Limpopo.

Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD, said that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples.

She stressed that regardless of the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions remains unchanged and the public are urged to be responsible.

This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practice healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and gather in well ventilated spaces, she added.