“At first it looked like some group outbreaks, but from yesterday, from our scientists from the Genomic Surveillance Network came the indication that they were observing a new variant,” said Health Minister Joe Phaahla, noting that it is currently unclear where the variant is. . – currently called B.1.1.529 – first appeared.
So far it has been discovered in South Africa, Botswana and on a traveler to Hong Kong from South Africa, Phaahla added.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said the variant has “much more mutations than we expected”, adding that “it is spreading very fast and we expect to see pressure on the health system in the future. and weeks ”.
He advised the public to “try to avoid super-spreading events”.
Officials also expressed concern that the mutation could result in immune evasion and increased virus transmission, but added that it is too early to say what kind of impact the mutations will have on vaccine efficacy. More studies also need to be conducted to understand the clinical severity of the variant compared to previous variants, officials said.
“The full significance of this variant remains uncertain and the best tool we have is still vaccines,” De Oliveira said. He added that laboratory studies still need to be conducted to test for vaccine and antibody evasion.
Great Britain bans flights from 6 African countries
Also Thursday, UK officials announced that six African countries would be added to England’s “red list” of travel after the UK Health and Safety Agency announced concern about the variant.
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said flights to the UK from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be suspended from noon on Friday and all six countries would be added to the list. red – meaning UK residents and British and Irish nationals. Arriving home from those starting points must be subject to a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Javid added that the UK “has not discovered any of this new variant” in the country so far.
On Friday, South African officials will brief the World Health Organization, which has classified B.1.1.529 as a “monitored variant”.
CNN’s Duarte Mendonca contributed to this report.
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