JOHANNESBURG - A new coronaviruses has been detected in South Africa, which scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Thursday.
The coronaviruses evolve as it spreads and many new variants with worrying mutations often die out. Scientists are looking at possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but it takes time to figure out whether new variants will have a public health impact.
South Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new infections, Phaahla said at an online press conference.
He said that there has been an exponential rise over the last four or five days, and that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases. Scientists in South Africa are trying to determine what percentage of new cases have been caused by the new variant.
B. is currently identified as it. He said that the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa.
The technical working group of the World Health Organization was due to meet Friday to assess the new variant and decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.
The British government announced yesterday that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.
U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there were concerns that the new variant may be more transmissible than the dominant delta strain, and the vaccines we currently have may be less effective against it.
The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring the spread of the delta variant in the country, according to Tulio de Oliveira, who said the new variant has a constellation of new mutations.
De Oliveira said that the very high number of mutations is a concern for immune evasion and transmissibility.
He said that this new variant has many more mutations, including more than 30 to the spike protein that affects transmissibility. We can see that the variant is spreading very fast. We expect to see pressure in the healthcare system over the next few days and weeks. A team of scientists from seven South African universities are studying the variant. He said they have 100 whole genomes of it and expect to have many more in the next few days.
He said that we are concerned by the jump in evolution in this variant. He said that it can be detected by a PCR test.
After a period of relatively low transmission in which South Africa recorded just over 200 new confirmed cases per day, the daily new cases increased to more than 1,200 on Wednesday. They jumped to 2,465.
The first surge occurred in Pretoria and the surrounding Tshwane metropolitan area, and appeared to be cluster outbreaks from student gatherings at universities in the area, said health minister Phaahla. A new variant was discovered with the help of genomic sequencing, which led to a rise in cases.
This is a variant that we have to be very serious about, said Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge. It has a high number of spike mutations that could affect the immune response and transmissibility. Gupta said scientists in South Africa need time to determine if the surge in new cases is attributable to the new variant. He said that there is a high probability that this is the case. South African scientists have done an incredible job of identifying this quickly and bringing it to the world's attention. South African officials had warned that a new resurgence was expected from mid-December to early January, and had hoped to prepare for that by getting many more people vaccinated, said Phaahla.
About 41% of South Africa's adults have been vaccinated, and the number of shots given per day is relatively low, at less than 130,000, much less than the government's target of 300,000 per day.
South Africa currently has around 16.5 million vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Johnson Johnson, in the country and expects to deliver about 2.5 million more in the next week, according to Nicholas Crisp, acting director-general of the national health department.
Crisp said that we are getting vaccines faster than we are using them at the moment. For some time now, we have been deferring deliveries, not decreasing orders, but just deferring our deliveries so that we don't accumulate and stock vaccines. South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID 19 cases, including more than 89,000 deaths.
To date, the delta variant remains the most infectious and has surpassed other once-worrying variants, including alpha, beta and mu. More than 99 percent of the countries that submit sequences to the world's biggest public database are delta.