covid-19 variant b.1.1.7

UK Covid-19 variant ‘B.1.1.7’ detected in South Africa

Published by Andile Sicetsha

A spanner has been thrown in the momentum South Africa had gained in reducing the infection rate. Virologists have confirmed that the Covid-19 variant ‘B.1.1.7’ has been detected within our borders.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform) — or KRISP labs — took to Twitter, on Thursday, to reveal that “the first genome of B.1.1.7 (501Y.V1) [was found] in South Africa.”

“We are finalizing the assembly of the genome and will deposit soon at GISAID.(global initiative of sharing all influenza data),” Prof Oliveira wrote.

At this time, it’s unknown how far out the UK variant has spread. However, there are calls for concern since experts have said that variant B.1.1.7 is deadlier than its South African counterpart 501Y.V2.

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Everything we know about variant B.1.1.7

In the UK, the variant has forced the country back into a strict lockdown. Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted, in a televised address to the British nation, that those infected with variant B.1.1.7 were at a higher risk of death than patients of the original virus.

British physician and chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance warned that while the evidence remains ‘uncertain’, current data suggests that the new variant carries a greater threat.

“Whereas an average of 10 out of a 1,000 older people died of the old variant in the UK, this appears to have increased to 13 out of 1,000 people with the new variant,” he said.

With much to be discovered about the mutated virus, here’s what we know about it thus far:

Information on variant B.1.1.7 was sourced from

  • It has mutated 17 times, eight of which occurred in the spike protein;
  • it carries a deletion in its genetic code called 69-70del which helps the variant evade the body’s immune system in some hosts;
  • it is more transmissible than other forms of Covid-19;
  • scientists are optimistic that vaccines will work on B.1.1.7; and
  • there are conflicting opinions on its deadliness.