Society

New COVID variant in South Africa

Similar to the surge in cases during the winter of 2020, this year’s winter season is not looking bright. Scientists in South Africa discovered a worrying new strain of the coronavirus on Thursday, whose mutations represent a “big jump in evolution” according to the New York Times, that is leading to an increase in new cases. After seeing a rise in infections in South Africa’s economic center surrounding Johannesburg, scientists discovered the B1.1.529 variation in the last two days. According to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, 22 positive cases have been found thus far. In Hong Kong, one instance was discovered in someone who had come from South Africa. In the United Kingdom, no instances have yet been discovered. As new variations arise, scientists are concerned whether it is enough for it to resist the vaccines for the main string. South Africa was the first country to announce the introduction of the Beta variation in December 2020, and it has since spread to approximately 70 countries. Some clinical trials have shown that immunizations provide less protection against the Beta version, which has alarmed scientists. Since then, the more virulent and aggressive Delta variety has spread around the world, and it is thought to be fuelling the current outbreak.

“The B1.1.529 variant has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone, Mr. de Oliveira said. On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three, the Delta variant has two, said Mr. de Oliveira.”

Fron the New York Times article, “South Africa detects a new variant displaying a ‘big jump in evolution.’”

Scientists are unsure how effective existing vaccinations will be against the new variety due to changes that may resist neutralization. According to Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, the variant is related to the Lambda and Beta variants, which are linked to innate immune evasion. All of these factors make scientists concerned that this variant may not only have increased transmissibility, allowing it to spread more quickly, but may also be able to bypass sections of the immune system and the protection our immune systems provide.

To make matters worse, as the holiday season approaches, COVID case rates will be rising, which could increase the possibility for transmissions outside of Africa. Thanksgiving air travel did not quite hit the 2019 highs, but it came close. On Wednesday, almost 2.3 million individuals went through Transportation Safety Administration checks, more than any previous day of the outbreak. Since there has been an existing pattern of rising cases during the winter season, people should work to break this pattern and take more precautions even though there is a holiday break since restrictions will not be lifted until changes and improvements are made.

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