South Africa: New Corona variant with many mutations

As of: 11/26/2021 5:06 a.m.

So far, the delta variant of the coronavirus has been rampant in Europe and is pushing some health systems to their limits. Now a variant is spreading across South Africa that could be worse. First countries draw consequences for travelers.

The spread of a new, potentially very dangerous variant of the coronavirus in southern Africa has sparked international concern. Experts fear that variant B.1.1.529 is not only highly contagious due to an unusually large number of mutations, but could also penetrate the protective shield of the vaccines more easily.

The South African Institute for Infectious Diseases NICD announced that the first 22 cases of the new variant had been detected in South Africa. More cases are to be expected in the course of the ongoing genome analyzes. “Although the data situation is still limited, our experts are working overtime with all monitoring systems in order to understand the new variant and the possible implications associated with it,” it said. Cases have also been confirmed in Botswana and Hong Kong.

Suddenly many new infections again

South Africa’s Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, described the variant as “seriously worrying” and as the cause of an “exponential” increase in reported cases in South Africa. It was noticeable how much the number of infections had risen in the past few days – after months with very few positive tests. The increase was mainly recorded in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Ekuhurleni. He called on South Africans to wear masks and get vaccinated.

The number of infections reported daily in South Africa rose to more than 1200 on Wednesday. At the beginning of the month there were sometimes only around 100 new infections. The beta variant of the virus was discovered in South Africa last year. With around 2.95 million corona cases and more than 89,600 deaths, it is the hardest hit country in Africa.

At least ten mutations

According to scientists, the new variant has at least ten mutations, others speak of up to 30. In comparison, the delta variant only has two, while the beta variant has three. Richard Lessels from the KRISP Institute said there are signs that the new variant is spreading faster than Delta and that it may also put more strain on the human immune system. The coming days and weeks are crucial to receive more information. So far, the variant has spread mainly among young people, according to experts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was “closely” watching the new variant. The WHO will presumably meet today and decide whether B.1.1.529 should be classified as a variant “of interest” or as “a matter of concern”. It is to be expected that the WHO will then also give the variant a Greek name.

Consequences for travelers

Out of concern about the new variant of the corona virus, Israel classified South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini as “red countries”. Foreigners from there are no longer allowed to enter Israel. Israelis returning from these countries must be quarantined in a Corona hotel for up to 14 days. However, after a week, they could test themselves free with two negative PCR tests.

The UK government is restricting air travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Namibia. It will be hired on Friday afternoon, it said. Travelers who are arriving in Great Britain from one of these countries by then would have to go into quarantine and do a PCR test on the second and eighth day. All travelers who had come from these countries in the past ten days were asked to be isolated and tested.

So far, no cases with the new variant have been identified in the UK. But according to the PA news agency, up to 700 people from South Africa alone arrive in the country every day. An even higher number is expected over the Christmas season.

With information from Jana Genth, ARD-Studio Johannesburg

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