New Covid-19 variant with multiple mutations discovered in SA

Isaac Mahlangu Senior reporter
Image: 123RF/perig76

A new Covid-19 variant has been discovered in the country with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) technical working group meeting on Friday to discuss it.

According to scientists, the variant called lineage B.1.1.529 has a high number of mutations, which are concerning for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, a renowned bioinformatician who is among the scientists who discovered the new variant, said they had requested “an urgent meeting with the WHO technical working group” for tomorrow.

De Oliveira said the new Covid-19 variant was produced from samples collected from November 12-20 in Gauteng, which recorded around 80% of all new infections in the country.

He said the variant had also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong from South African travellers.

Early signs from diagnostic laboratories show that B.1.1.529 has rapidly increased in Gauteng and may be present in most provinces, De Oliveira said.

He said they had spent the last few days trying to understand the impact of the new variant’s mutations as the mutation profile of the new variant was clearly very different from other circulating variants.

Dr Richard Lessells, Infectious Diseases Specialist, said the large number of mutations of the variant were a challenge.

"Some of these mutations are familiar to us but many of them are not familiar to us and we are just listing some of the key mutations we have flagged and what they are predicted to have," Lessells said.

He said some of the mutations of the new variant were similar to those found in other Covid-19 variants such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Lambda.

"A lot of mutations in the spike protein (of the new variant) might affect how well the virus is neutralised but we also we see mutations that are well known... they give us concern that they may give the variant enhanced transmissibility to spread from person to person and the ability to get to other parts of the immune system not just the neutralising antibodies," Lessells said

"This gives us concern that this variant may not just have enhanced transmissibility but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system," Dr Richard Lessells, Infectious Diseases Specialist, said the large number of mutations of the variant were a challenge.

"Some of these mutations are familiar to us but many of them are not familiar to us and we are just listing some of the key mutations we have flagged and what they are predicted to have," Lessells said.

He said some of the mutations of the new variant were similar to those found in other Covid-19 variants such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Lambda.

"A lot of mutations in the spike protein (of the new variant) might affect how well the virus is neutralised but we also we see mutations that are well known... they give us concern that they may give the variant enhanced transmissibility to spread from person to person," Lessells said

Lessells added: "This gives us concern that this variant may not just have enhanced transmissibility but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system."

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla said with most people travelling to and from Gauteng, they expected the variant to be spread across the country already.

He said it was too early to predict what's likely to happen in reaction to the news of the new variant however the national command centre on coronavirus will be meeting over the weekend to discuss the implications of the new variant and the response to the pandemic.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.