- BBC World News
The UK is not the only country dealing with a new coronavirus mutation.
Scientists in South Africa have announced that they are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate a variation of the virus that is driving a wave of infections in various regions of the country.
It is known as 501.V2 and was identified by a team of geneticists led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp).
Viruses mutate frequently and SARS CoV-2 has been doing so since the beginning of the pandemic.
The pathogen that hit Europe during the first wave is not exactly the same one that spread later in summer. Nor is it the same as the one that was initially unleashed in Wuhan.
That a virus mutates does not necessarily mean that it becomes more harmful or resistant to a vaccine, but the variants found in the UK and South Africa have raised concern as being linked to a faster increase in cases.
This has led many countries to cancel their flights to these destinations and to apply more restrictive measures.
On December 18, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the new variant appeared to be behind the higher number of infections in young people than in the first wave of the virus.
“Physicians have provided evidence of changes in the epidemiological clinical picture, in particular by pointing out a higher proportion of younger patients without previous ailments presenting with critical illness“Mkhize said at a press conference.
The new South African variant was discovered earlier this month, when scientists noticed a series of mutations during routine surveillance of the virus.
It was found in the Eastern Cape Province, but has since spread to two other regions: Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal.
Pumza Filhani, the BBC’s South African correspondent, reports that 501.V2 does not appear to be linked to the new mutation found in the UK.
However, they do share the mutation in the way the virus attaches itself to the human cell, leading scientists to suspect that the new variant is behind faster transmission.
NO implies greater lethality
Trudie Lang, Professor of Global Health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, explains that mutations are common in viruses but that these alterations do not necessarily make them more lethal.
“From an evolutionary point of view, Viruses need to mutate in order to infect more people. A successful virus is one that is most easily transmitted, “Lang told the BBC.
“The virus does not care if its host dies“adds the expert.
During a meeting with journalists on December 18, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, head of the advisory committee of the South African government, declared that the new 501.V2 variant had become the dominant one of new infections in the country.
“It’s still early, but preliminary data suggest that the mutation dominates the second wave and this one expands faster than the first one, “says Karim.
“It is not clear if this second wave has more or fewer deaths. We have not yet seen red flags about the current death information.”
Researchers in the UK estimate that the mutated virus is 70% more transmissible than the other known strains.
Experts in South Africa, on the other hand, still gather information on this. However, the country’s daily infection rate has doubled between December 6 and 20, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
According to the Ministry of Health, the total number of coronavirus cases in South Africa exceeds 900,000 as of December 21 and they have been registered more than 24,000 deaths total.
On December 14, the South African government announced that vaccination would begin “at the beginning of next year”, as part of a program coordinated by the WHO.
South Africa has just entered its second wave of infections, so it has needed new regulations to curb transmission of the pathogen, including closing some of its most popular beaches in midsummer.
As with the UK, a growing number of countries have banned flights from South Africa.
These include Germany and Switzerland, while El Salvador has banned any traveler who has been to the African country in the last 30 days.
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