A new Coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa with almost 100 cases already linked to the new variant in the country.
The new variant has already been detected in South Africa’s most populated province, Gauteng, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located.
South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla speaking at a press conference said the variant, B.1.1.529, is behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases in the country.
“[It] is now a variant of serious concern which driving the spike in numbers,” he said.
Scientists say B.1.1.529 has at least 32 spike protein mutations that could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
Director of Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London (UCL) and a leading UK expert on COVID-19, Christina Pagel, called the new variant “extremely worrying.”
“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” said Adrian Puren, acting executive director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Francois Balloux, Director at the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a statement to the Science Media Centre the variant could be present in other parts of Africa.