South Africa detects new Covid-19 variant: scientists
Scientists in South Africa said Thursday they had detected a new Covid-19 variant with multiple mutations, blaming it for a surge in infection numbers, News.Az reports citing AFP.
"Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa," virologist Tulio de Oliveira told a hastily-called news conference.
The variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, "has a very high number of mutations," he said.
"It's unfortunately causing a resurgence of infections," he said.
It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, he said.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of "serious concern" and behind an "exponential" increase in reported cases, making it "a major threat".
Daily infections shot to more than 1,200 on Wednesday, up from around 100 earlier this month.
Before the detection of the new variant, authorities had predicted a fourth wave to hit South Africa starting around the middle of December, buoyed by travel ahead of the festive season.
The government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases of the B.1.1.529 variant have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing.
It said in a statement Thursday that detected cases and the percentage testing positive are "increasing quickly" in three of the country's provinces including Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
A cluster outbreak was recently identified, concentrated at a higher education institute in the capital Pretoria, the NICD said.
Last year South Africa also detected the Beta variant of the virus, although until now its infection numbers have been driven by the Delta variant, which was originally detected in India.
The country has the highest pandemic numbers in Africa with around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal.
Scientists said the new B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta or three for Beta.