New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: A new variant of COVID-19, feared to have a high amount of spike mutations unseen before, has been detected in South Africa, with the country's health minister on Thursday confirming that the African nation has seen a steady spike in infections associated with it. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the national public health institute of South Africa, earlier confirmed that a new variant classed as B.1.1.529 has been detected in the country and its 22 cases were recorded following genomic sequencing collaborations.

South Africa's Health Minister Joe Phaahla said he had hoped that the fourth wave would arrive in December or January, but this new variant was driving a spike in infection numbers. The South African authorities said the detected cases and percentage of people testing positive are both increasing quickly, particularly in the most populated province of Gauteng, North West and Limpopo regions of the country. The new variant has also been detected in neighbouring Botswana and as far away as Hong Kong.

Asian countries and European countries tightened travel restrictions in wake of the new and possibly vaccine-resistant variant, with the EU and India announcing stricter border controls. Britain banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries and asked British travellers returning from there to quarantine, while European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU also aimed to halt air travel from the region.

All you need to know about the new COVID-19 Variant, B.1.1.529:

What is B.1.529 variant?

According to South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira, where the variant has been detected, the B.1.1.529 variant contains more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the component of the virus that binds to cells. This is very high as compared to the two for Delta variant, spread of which resulted in a devastated second wave in India and many other countries to become the dominant strain worldwide.

Professor Christina Pagel, Director, Clinical Research Unit at University College of London, said that the new variant has been detected in Guateng province of South Africa, where Test Positivity Rate (TPR) in Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality increased massively in the last three weeks, from less than 1 per cent to over 30 per cent.

Will vaccines work against this new variant?

Many of these mutations present in the B.1.1.529 variant are linked to increased antibody resistance, which may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and affect how the virus behaves with regard to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.

Countries where B.1.529 variant has been detected:

Hong Kong, Israel, South Africa, Botswana

Is there any case of B.1.1.529 in India?

The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which is causing an increase in new COVID-19 infections in South Africa, has not been found in India so far, said official sources on Friday.

How dangerous it could be?

The variant is "clearly very different" from the other incarnations of Covid, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday.

The new variant is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute said.

"The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves. It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, said at a virtual press briefing.

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan