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FAQ: Why is the New South Africa COVID Variant “B.1.1.529” Concerning?

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FAQ: Why is the New South Africa COVID Variant “B.1.1.529” Concerning?
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A new COVID-19 variant has been discovered in South Africa on Thursday. Scientists are trying to understand the potential implications of this new variant B.1.1.529.

The new South African variant is a "variant under investigation" as of now. The average daily numbers of COVID-19 cases have consistently risen in the country.

The brand new variant is considered far worse than all the other COVID-19 variants, according to scientists.

What is this new variant? Why is it different from the other COVID-19 variants? Why is it considered more harmful? FIT explains.


What Is the New South African COVID-19 Variant?

The new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa is called B.1.1.529. Experts have diagnosed around 50 confirmed cases of this variant in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

According to the experts, this variant has a "very unusual constellation of mutations". B.1.1.529 has the potentiality to evade the immune response of our body, says scientists, reported The Guardian.

While scientists try and decipher the implications of these mutations, one needs to stay vigilant. As of now, only Delta variant posed a significant threat, but now this South African variant could prove to be of concern.

Where Was It First Found?

The new variant has rapidly increased in the province of Gauteng, which is the most populated. Experts also suspect that the variant has already spread in the other eight provinces of the country, reported The Guardian.

South Africa has confirmed 100 cases of the new variant so far. Botswana and Hong Kong have also detected cases of B.1.1.529. The case detected in Hong Kong is a traveller from South Africa.

Scientists believe 90% of new cases in Gauteng are of the new South African COVID-19 variant, reported The Guardian.

Why Is the New Variant Different From Other Variants?

Scientists believe B.1.1.529 to be far worse than the other COVID-19 variants because it has a different spike protein. The spike protein has 32 mutations. This is almost double the mutations found in Delta.

Mutation in the spike protein makes it difficult for the immune cells to attack the pathogens. This is why the new variant is considered a"variant of serious concern" by virologists.

South Africa has requested the World Health Organisation to conduct an urgent sitting on this new variant, on Friday.


What Restrictions Have Been Imposed So far?

England has placed South Africa under "red list travel restrictions" ever since the discovery of the new variant. They have banned travel from six nations:

  • South Africa

  • Namibia

  • Lesotho

  • Eswatini

  • Zimbabwe

  • Botswana

"The early indication we have of this variant is it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it,"
Sajid Javid, United Kingdom Health Secretary, as quoted by NDTV.

Scotland also announced that those arriving from South Africa should self-isolate and do PCR tests starting from Friday midday. People arriving on Saturday after 4 am should stay at a quarantine hotel.

Israel also imposed travel restrictions on citizens from South Africa. Israel has also added Mozambique to the list.

What Is India’s Stance on the New Variant?

The centre sent out alerts on the new South African COVID-19 variant on Thursday

"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," Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to all states and UTs, as reported by India Today.

The Centre has plans to conduct rigorous testing and screening of people arriving from South Africa.

How Do You Protect Yourself From the New South African Variant?

By doing what you have always done - wearing masks and following COVID appropriate behaviour. It is also important to take both the doses of COVID vaccines.

Citizens belonging to the countries that have allowed booster shots should also take the doses if they are eligible.

(Written with inputs from The Guardian, NDTV and India Today.)

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