A new corona variant has popped up in South Africa. It is called B.1.1.529 and is rapidly spreading in the densely populated province of Gauteng, which houses the multi-million dollar city of Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria. As a result of the emergence of the variant, Israel and the United Kingdom have imposed travel restrictions for a number of African countries.
The coronavirus is constantly emerging in new guises, but new variants also often die out again. What worries South African scientists is that the number of corona infections is increasing rapidly and that this new variant may be the cause of this.
After a period of around 200 new infections a day, that number rose to 1200 yesterday and 2465 today. “Over the past five days, we‘ve seen an exponential increase,” said Health Minister Joe Phaahla. He added that the new virus seems to be the driving force behind it.
Furthermore, he said that travelers have also brought the virus from South Africa to Botswana and Hong Kong.
A special working group of the World Health Organization will examine the new virus tomorrow at the request of South Africa. The B.1.1.529 variant may also receive an indication with a letter from the Greek alphabet, such as the now dominant delta variant.
South African corona specialist Tulio de Oliveira says the new variant has many mutations, including more than thirty mutations that are important for spread. “We see that the virus may be able to spread very quickly. We think that the healthcare system will be under pressure in the coming days and weeks.”
Professor of microbiology Ravindra Gupta of the University of Cambridge told AP news agency that time is needed to determine whether this variant is responsible for the rapid increase in the number of infections. “Chances are,” he said and praised the South African scientists that they discovered the variant so quickly and made its existence worldly.
Only 24 percent of South Africa’s residents are fully vaccinated and the number of vaccinations per day is not yet half of the 300,000 that the government is aiming for.
Israel and UK measures
Israel has put South Africa and its neighbours on the “red” list. Whoever comes from such a country and is not a resident of Israel will not enter Israel. Travelers returning to Israel from those countries must quarantine for seven days at a state-designated location. They are not allowed to leave there until they can show negative results from two PCR tests.
The United Kingdom is also taking measures. From Friday afternoon, all flights from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and eswatini will be banned. Also, all travelers who enter the UK in a different way from these countries must be compulsory in quarantine.
British Health Minister Javid says he is “deeply concerned” about the new variant, but he stresses that more research is needed.