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Scientists and health authorities in South Africa confirmed this Thursday the detection of a new variant of the coronavirus, identified as B.1.1.529, which has multiple mutations and which has raised “concern” among specialists, although its impact has yet to be studied.

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The new variant features “A very unusual constellation of mutations”, but his “Meaning is still uncertain”explained in a virtual press conference Professor Tulio de Oliveira, from the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Sequencing Innovation Platform (KRISP, a scientific institution in eastern South Africa).

In total, so far, cases of this variant have been confirmed in South Africa, Hong Kong (in a traveler from the African nation) and neighboring Botswana, according to data provided by the South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

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Total, B.1.1.529 has more than thirty mutations and some of them are, according to South African scientists, cause for concern due to their possible impact on transmissibility and their potential ability to evade immunity or previous protection.

“The variant surprised us, it has a great evolutionary leap, many more variants than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta (variant)”, said Oliveira.

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“We could potentially see this variant expand very quickly.”, lamented this specialist, based on data collected in the South African province of Gauteng (where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located), where in recent days the number of COVID-19 cases increased significantly.

The South African specialists emphasized, however, that the detection of this new variant has been carried out in a “Very, very early” and they were optimistic that this favors the control of their expansion.

In fact, the discovery of this variant occurred in an analysis on November 23, from samples taken between November 14 and 16 after an increase in the number of cases detected in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

“We didn’t want this to be around as a rumor,” emphasized, for his part, the South African Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, at the same press conference.

Oliveira also indicated that they hope that the World Health Organization (WHO) will give a new Greek letter name to this variant tomorrow, as it was done with the rest; and stressed that, although the B.1.1.529 was first detected in South Africa, it does not necessarily mean that it originated in this southern country.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla stated that this variant is “very worrying” and is the source of the “exponential” increase in the number of cases found in the country.

Last year, South Africa detected the Beta variant, but now the number of infections has rebounded by the Delta, originally detected in India.

To date, South Africa has racked up some 2.95 million COVID-19 cases with nearly 90,000 deaths.

This southern nation is the epicenter of the pandemic within the African continent and has already suffered the effects of the discovery and expansion of another variant, the beta, during its second wave (between late 2020 and early 2021), which was later swept away by the delta variant in the third wave (mid-2021).


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