A New Covid-19 Variant from South Africa

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According to BBC News, a new (“worst seen so far) variant of Covid-19, currently dubbed as B.1.1.529, that has the potential to evade immunity has been identified in South Africa.

In a recent media briefing, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, reportedly said that the new variant carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations.

Here is a mutation variant of serious concern. We were hopeful that we might have a longer break in between waves — possibly that it would hold off to late December or even next year January.

– Joe Phaahla, S. Africa Health Minister at a media event (source: Bloomberg)

Dr. Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, reportedly said “B.1.1.529 is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient”.

Scientists say the variant has 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike protein, which is the target of most vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into our body’s cells.

– From BBC News

According to Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist and head of respiratory diseases at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, in UK that researchers in S. Africa have discovered almost 100 cases linked to the new variant.

Outside of S. Africa, the new variant has been identified in Botswana and in a traveler to Hong Kong from South Africa, writes CNN Health.

“Armed by our experience and understanding of the alpha and delta variants, we know that early action is far better than late action. It may turn out that this variant is not as large a threat as alpha and delta, but the potential consequences of not acting on the possibility it could be are serious.”

Ewan Birney, deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (source: Bloomberg)

According to BBC news, UK has has restricted travel bans from S. Africa and other countries.

According to Bloomberg, it will take several weeks for scientists to determine the impact of the new variant on hospitalizations and deaths and to study how it may interact with vaccines.

Coronavirus-19 vaccination watch

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID vaccination tracker page (as of Nov 24, 9 a.m.) 572,190,175 doses have been distributed and 454,447,737 doses administered. According MDH COVID-19 Response vaccine data (as of Nov 23) a total of 7,728,861 doses of Covid-19 (Pfizer & Moderna) vaccines have been administered in Minnesota. According to the MDH latest tally (as of Nov 26) the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are 895,229 (out of 14,719,856 tested) with 9,338 deaths.