Fears over 'horrific' new Covid-19 variant detected in Africa

A new Covid-19 variant, which has been identified in three countries, has some experts on alert due to it's "horrific" spike profile.

Virologist Tom Peacock from the Imperial Department of Infectious Disease raised the alarm about the new variant which was first identified in Southern Africa.

So far, there have only been 10 confirmed cases of the variant, dubbed B.1.1.529.

The variant was first identified on November 11 in Botswana, and there have been three cases there, The Guardian reported.

The new Covid variant was first found in Botswana. Source: Getty Images
The new Covid variant was first found in Botswana. Source: Getty Images

South Africa first found the variant a few days later and there have been six confirmed cases.

According to The Guardian, the 10th case of the variant was a 36-year-old man who tested negative for Covid in South Africa, but returned a positive test on November 13 while quarantining in Hong Kong.

"Worth emphasising this is at super low numbers right now in a region of Africa that is fairly well sampled," Dr Peacock said on Twitter.

"However it very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile (would take a guess that this would be worse antigenically than nearly anything else about)."

Dr Peacock noted on GitHub the variant has the potential to evade most known monoclonal antibodies, given the "extremely long branch length and incredibly high amount of spike mutations".

WHO monitoring new Covid variant

The World Health Organisation is monitoring the variant.

Professor of Computational Systems Biology and Director, UCL Genetics Institute, UCL, Francois Balloux said B.1.1.529 has an "unusual constellation of mutations".

"Given the large number of mutations it has accumulated apparently in a single burst, it likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient," he remarked.

Prof Balloux said the variant should be closely monitored, but said unless it starts appearing more frequently in the near future, there is no reason to be "overly concerned".

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