New COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa, scientists say

A new COVID-19 variant of "serious concern" has been detected in South Africa, scientists said at a press conference on Thursday.

“Here is a mutation variant of serious concern,” South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at the media briefing, Bloomberg reported. “We were hopeful that we might have a longer break in between waves — possibly that it would hold off to late December or even next year January.” 

Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor at two universities in South Africa, said the new variant is called B.1.1529 and is “clearly very different” from past mutations of the coronavirus, with a larger number of mutations compared to previous variants such as delta.

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Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said the new variant was likely created in an immunocompromised person who can carry the virus for longer than normal.

It could have developed in someone who was untreated for AIDS/HIV, according to Bloomberg, as South Africa has struggled to combat the coronavirus along with having the world's highest rate of AIDS.

The World Health Organization said in a statement that other cases of the new variant were detected in neighboring Botswana.

Anne von Gottberg, a clinical microbiologist and head of respiratory diseases at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said there have so far been 100 cases linked to the new variant, which will receive a Greek letter name soon. 

It is not yet clear how the coronavirus vaccines will work against the new variant or the danger the mutation presents to other countries.