A new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations, detected by scientists in South Africa, has raised fresh fears of a surge in the pandemic.
A new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations, detected by scientists in South Africa, has raised fresh fears of a surge in the pandemic. Several countries, including Britain and the European Union have banned travel to and from South Africa as the new variant is reported to have the potential to breakthrough vaccine protection.
The alarm has been triggered as the number of daily infections in South Africa increased tenfold since the start of the month.
The new coronavirus variant has also emerged just ahead of the Indian cricket team’s tour of South Africa scheduled to start from December 17. The Indian cricket board is reported to be awaiting the government's decision before taking a call on whether to go ahead with the tour.
The new coronavirus variant goes by the scientific label B.1.1.529, as the World Health Organization has still to assign a Greek letter to name the variant.
The WHO said it is “closely monitoring" the reported variant and is expected to meet on Friday to determine if it should be designated a variant of “interest" or of “concern".
Alarmed by the alert, several countries have announced fresh travel curbs, quarantine and vaccination rules for passengers travelling from and via these South African countries.
The variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was holding a meeting in Geneva, with experts discussing the risks the variant, called B.1.1.529, presents, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said.
However, the WHO cautioned against hasty measures.
"At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against," Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. "The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing curbs."
Nearly 100 sequences of the variant have been reported and early analysis shows it has "a large number of mutations" requiring further study, Lindmeier said.
British health minister Sajid Javid said the new variant had probably spread to other countries. The sequence of this variant was first uploaded by Hong Kong from a case of someone travelling from South Africa, he added.