South Africa finds COVID-19 variant with ‘very high number of mutations’

This variant has many more mutations than the highly-transmissible Delta variant

Virus Outbreak-Pfizer-Pill Representational image: A microscopic image of the SARS-CoV2 virus | AP

A new variant of COVID-19 has been identified in South Africa with a “very high” number of mutations, officials announced on Thursday.

"Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa," virologist Tulio de Oliveira said at a news conference.

Oliveira said the variant had a “very high number of mutations” and was causing a resurgence in infections. On Wednesday, South Africa saw over 1,200 daily new infections.

The variant, scientific lineage number B.1.1.529 was detected in Botswana and in Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa.

South Africa came out of a “third wave” of infections in September. The beta variant of the coronavirus, which briefly became the most dominant strain in the world, was first detected in the Nelson Mandela Bay area of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province in October last year.

African health authorities plan to hold talks with their South African counterparts next week about the variant. Data on it is currently being analysed, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong said on Thursday.

Based on the current naming scheme, the new variant may end up being termed the “Nu” variant. It has ten mutations, eight more than what the delta variant has.

"What gives us some concerns [is] that this variant might have not just have enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system," researcher Richard Lessells told AFP.