Concern about new Corona variant in South Africa

A new variant that recently appeared in southern Africa carries more than 30 mutations in the spike protein of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. It is apparently beginning to spread in the South African province of Gauteng, which includes the large cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. According to the Viennese geneticist Ulrich Elling, the special combination is cause for concern. The WHO has already become aware of variant “B.1.1.529” and will hold a meeting on Friday.

Travel restrictions

On Thursday evening it was announced that England had put South Africa on the red travel list. Hundreds of people returning to England were infected with the new virus, writes The Guardian. London restricted air traffic from several countries in the region. South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe are affected by the new regulation. There is a strict hotel quarantine obligation for those arriving.

Israel also imposed immediate travel restrictions on several African countries on Thursday. South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini have been classified as “red countries” after a special consultation, said the office of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

While the Covid 19 pandemic in the rest of South Africa is slowing down in the spring that is currently prevailing there, a massive increase in new infections has recently been seen in the Gauteng province. This is interesting, since South Africa is actually relatively infected after previous strong outbreaks, according to the expert from the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the Academy of Sciences (ÖAW): “Gauteng then attracts negative attention.” The sudden increase culminated in over 1,000 new infections yesterday, Wednesday.

Worrying mutations

Among the few sequenced virus genomes from the region, the variant under the designation B.1.1.529 already accounts for around two thirds, according to Elling’s calculations. The first three confirmed cases come from Botswana, one case was detected in a South Africa vacationer in Hong Kong. The situation is still confusing, but the WHO is already discussing it, Elling said on Thursday in an interview with the APA.

Unfortunately, the variant combines a large number of mutations in the spike protein that are considered questionable. The experts count 32 changes, although the published data are still fraught with some uncertainty. According to Elling, it is astonishing that a variant could accumulate so many mutations.

There are also three newly inserted building blocks in the sequence of the S protein. That “normally never happens”, says the scientist, who has been analyzing the protein in Austria with his team for many months. Among the many mutations, this is “the craziest”.

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