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After Hong Kong, Israel; Belgium Reports Europe's 1st Case of New COVID Variant

The new COVID-19 variant with multiple mutations was first discovered in South Africa.

Updated
COVID-19
2 min read
Coronavirus variants. Image used for representational purposes.
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Belgium on Friday, 26 November, said that it has detected Europe’s first announced case of the new COVID-19 variant, reported AFP. The individual who has tested positive for the variant is unvaccinated and had reportedly returned from a trip to Egypt on 11 November.

Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, on Friday, urged people to not panic, but exercise “total precaution”.

"It must be repeated that this is a suspect variant — we don't know if it is a very dangerous variant."

Further, he pointed out that Europe was stopping flights from Southern Africa “as a precaution”.

New Variant Also Reported in Israel, Hong Kong

Two cases of a new COVID-19 variant, first discovered in South Africa, were found in travellers arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, 25 November, reported Bloomberg. Later, Israel's Health Ministry also said that it had identified a case of the new variant in a person who had returned from Malawi.

In Hong Kong, the variant, known as B.1.1.529, was found in a traveller from South Africa, while the other was identified in a person quarantined in the hotel room next to them, reported Bloomberg, quoting the Hong Kong government.

As of 26 November, South Africa has detected 100 cases of the variant, reported Bloomberg, quoting Anne von Gottberg, clinical microbiologist and head of respiratory diseases at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

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In a statement published by the Science Media Centre, Francois Balloux, the director of the UCL Genetics Institute said the variant carries an unusually large number of mutations, Bloomberg reported.

According to the report, the variant, which was earlier concentrated in only one province of South Africa, has now spread to the neighbouring country of Botswana as well.

Meanwhile, in Israel, the health ministry issued a statement, saying, "The variant discovered in southern African states has been identified in Israel," reported AFP. The ministry said that the variant was recorded "in a person who returned from Malawi," and there were "two more cases of people returning from abroad" who had been placed in quarantine.

Rigorous Screening for Travellers from South Africa: Health Ministry

On Thursday, 25 November, India's Union Health Minister issued an alert for the rigorous screening of travellers entering the country from South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana, where a new COVID-19 variant has been detected.

"lt has now been reported by NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) that multiple cases of a COVID-19 variant 8.1.1529 have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Honk Kong (1 case). This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan stated.

Officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) had held a meeting on Thursday, 25 November, to discuss the new variant.

(With updates from AFP.)

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