Over the past few weeks, South Africa has recorded steadily growing Covid-19 infection numbers, with Wednesday’s 1,275 new infections being the highest number since the country exited the third wave.
By Thursday, the Department of Health’s briefing revealed the B.1.1.529 variant was becoming dominant, after being detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
South Africa currently has 22 cases of the variant, with up-to-date results due by the end of the week.
Genomic surveillance, which involves the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Free State, the University of Pretoria, Wits and the National Health Laboratory Service, revealed the emergence of B.1.1.529.
Here is what you need to know about the new variant:
When was the B.1.1.529 first detected?
The NICD said a group of related SARS-CoV-2 viruses in South Africa, B.1.1.529, was first detected on 22 November.
It was detected at a “relatively high frequency” in Gauteng.
The mutations do not have more than previously seen, but does have some novel mutations, the NICD explained.
B.1.1.529 is currently categorised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “variants under monitoring”, with WHO saying the date of designation was 24 November.
So far, the variant has not met the criteria for variants of interest or variants of concern. This will, however, be constantly monitored.
How is B.1.1.529 different?
This variant shares some mutations with the C.1.2, Beta and Delta variants, but also has additional mutations.
But this is not yet cause for concern.
The NICD reported no unusual symptoms have been reported on those infected with the B.1.1.529 variant, and as with other variants, some people infected with the variant are asymptomatic as well.
Work is currently underway to look at monitoring patients currently infected with the B.1.1.529 of the variant.
The NICD also said work was underway in looking at the “immune escape potential of B.1.1.529 in the laboratory setting”.
However, the best protection against hospitalisation and death is still getting a Covid-19 vaccine.
Variants are inevitable when a virus spreads and mutates, but wearing a mask, getting a vaccine and adhering to social distancing protocols are also excellent ways to minimise the chances of being infected.
Compiled by Nica Richards