A new COVID-19 ‘super variant’ has been discovered in South Africa and according to scientists, it could hamper the country’s vaccination efforts.
COVID-19 ‘super variant’: What scientists say about it
Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) sent waves of concern crashing on social media when he detailed the latest information virologists have on the new variant, named the ‘B.1.1.529’.
📍New variant alert—I’m quietly monitoring several odd variants signals that have emerged this week. For now, I’ll just share this— #B11529 has 32 new mutations in the #SARSCoV2 spike protein alone— “an extremely high number” & “could be a real concern”.🧵https://t.co/Nm5MqzmycS pic.twitter.com/CGOCuSoy5h— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) November 25, 2021
In a series of tweets, Feigl-Ding revealed that the super variant contains 32 new mutations in its spike protein, “an extremely high number and could be a real concern.”
According to epidemiologist, the variant was first discovered in Botswana and early tracing data suggests that three cases have been sequenced. In South Africa, however, 22 cases linked to B.1.1.529 have been confirmed, including one confirmed infection in Hong Kong, where a traveller returning from South Africa tested positive for the COVID-19 super variant.
Moreover, Professor Thomas Peacock from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in a GitHub thread where global virologists collaborate on information-sharing about COVID-19 variants, warned that the multi-mutation spreading in South Africa may have one partial genome.
While in Peacock’s view, the spike in this variant warrants monitoring for now, he did warn that “the extremely long branch length and incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern.”
“Worth emphasising this is at super low numbers right now in a region of Africa that is fairly well sampled, however it very very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile (would take a guess that this would be worse antigenically than nearly anything else about),” he wrote.
How many confirmed cases of the B.1.1.529 variant in South Africa?
At this time, all that is known about the variant is that it popped up on the radar of epidemiologists in Botswana, around 11 November 2021.
Since then, only three cases linked to the variant have been confirmed in the neighbouring country. In South Africa, however, 22 cases have been detected.
With regards to the positive case in Hong Kong, it’s confirmed that the traveller was a 36-year-old man who came into South Africa on 23 October 2021 and returned on 11 November 2021.
When he arrived in Hong Kong, he had tested negative. However, two days later, during his mandatory quarantine stay at a hotel, the second COVID-19 test came back positive with high concentrations of the B.1.1.529 found in his sample.
Currently, the variant is being monitored and no extreme measures have been taken.