New COVID variant detected in South Africa prompts UK travel ban

A new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa appears to be rapidly mutating and spreading among younger patients, officials announced on Thursday.

The new variant — dubbed B.1.1.529 by scientists — has been detected in South Africa, Botswana and in a South African traveler to Hong Kong, according to South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

Phaahla said in an online press briefing Thursday that “over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise” in the variant.

Health officials expressed worry that the variant could result in immune evasion and greater transmission of the virus, but have said it’s too early to determine its impact yet.

The new variant has a “constellation” of new mutations, according to Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, who’s been tasked with tracking the spread of the variant in the country. The new variant so far has over 30 mutations. 

The “very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility,” said de Oliveira.

Only 41 percent of South Africa's population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Only 41 percent of South Africa’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
AP

“We can see that the variant is potentially spreading very fast,” he said. “We do expect to start seeing pressure in the healthcare system in the next few days and weeks.”

Just 41 percent of South Africans have been vaccinated for the virus.

A team from the World Health Organization is scheduled to meet Friday to determine whether the variant is significant enough to receive a name from the Greek alphabet.

In response to the outbreak, the United Kingdom halted travel to six countries in the region on Thursday: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended on midday Friday.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the currently dominant delta strain.

“The vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it, he added.

With Post Wires