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A new variant of COVID-19 found in South Africa is causing “great concern” because of its high mutation profile, and the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a special meeting on Friday to discuss its potential implications for treatments and vaccines.
At a press conference broadcasted live on official WHO channels, executives explained that the B.1.1.529 variant was detected in very few cases and that not much is known about it.
The new variant is of concern to specialists since the number of mutations largely determines how the virus will behave, WHO executives explained.
What is known about the new variant?
South African scientists have detected more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that binds to the body’s cells. This was pointed out by Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Epidemic Response and Innovation Centre, at a press conference.
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South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said during the same briefing that “it is a matter of days” before the new variant begins to spread around the world, and that cases have already been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.
“Especially when the peak occurs in [the province of] Gauteng, everyone is coming in and out of Gauteng from all corners of South Africa. So it is a fact that in the next few days there will be the beginning of the increase in the positivity rate and numbers,” the minister said.
In response to this and as a precaution against an eventual massive contagion, the United Kingdom has already taken measures, as reported by its Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, on his official Twitter account.
“More data needed, but we’re taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine,” Javid tweeted.