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Virologists are rushing to learn more about a variant of the Covid-19 virus that has been first identified in Botswana, and which quickly outperforms other versions of the virus in the region of South Africa that includes Johannesburg.
The variant, currently denominated B.1.1.529, is said to have twice as many mutations displayed by the Delta variant, which became the dominant variant in most parts of the world over the summer.
It is not yet known whether the mutations make this variant more infectious or if it causes more serious disease, but researchers say the high number of “spike protein” mutations – the focal point of a body’s immune response – can make it better able to overcome the body’s defenses.
Despite the spread of this variant, the number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa is still well below the delta outbreak at the start of the year. But the numbers are starting to rise again.
Until more is known about the variant, UK health authorities are taking the precaution of canceling flights from the six southern African countries, adding them to the country’s “red list” for them. travelers.
The World Health Organization called an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the variant. If it is determined to be of special interest or concern, it is likely to be called “Nu”, the next Greek letter in the current naming scheme.