News / Covid-19

Gareth Cotterell
Digital News Editor
2 minute read
25 Nov 2021
12:16 pm

New Covid-19 variant ‘of real concern’ detected in South Africa

Gareth Cotterell

Scientists are concerned that Covid-19 vaccines may not offer much protection against the new mutations.

Health experts around the world have been warned to be on alert because of the new Covid-19 variant. Picture: iStock

Scientists are warning that a new Covid-19 variant, with a “high amount of spike mutations”, could lead to widespread outbreaks of the virus.

The B.1.1.529 variant was first detected with three cases in Botswana in November, with six cases confirmed in South Africa soon after. One case has since been recorded in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.

The scientists are concerned that vaccines may not offer much protection against the new mutations.

“The incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern,” said Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, on the genome-sharing website GitHub.

Although Peacock recommends that the variant should only be monitored for now, he said the “export to Asia implies this might be more widespread than sequences alone would imply”.

Health experts around the world needed to be on alert, he added.

Covid-19 variants in South Africa

Researchers previously said new Covid-19 variants are detected each week. They also continuously monitor new strains and test whether vaccines are still effective.

Difference between a variant and strain?

A variant is a subtype of a microorganism that is genetically distinct from the main strain, but not sufficiently different to be termed a distinct strain.

A variant is referred to as a strain when it shows distinct physical properties. A specific variant may also undergo additional mutations.

ALSO READ: Covid-19 variants in SA: Your questions answered

On Wednesday the daily cases of Covid-19 continued to rise in South Africa, with 1,275 new cases identified in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 2,950,035.

The majority of new cases were recorded in Gauteng (80%), where B.1.1.529 cases have reportedly been detected.

There were also a further 22 Covid-19 related deaths reported, bringing the total fatalities in South Africa to 89,657.

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