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New Covid variant spreading in South Africa is ‘reason for concern’

A new coronavirus variant found in 22 cases in South Africa is a “reason for concern”, according to researchers.

Three cases of the variant – B.1.1.529 – have also been found in Botswana and there has been one case in Hong Kong, in a patient who had recently visited South Africa, report Jennifer Rigby and Peta Thornycroft.

Scientists have flagged the variant’s unusually high levels of mutations, particularly in the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect cells.

Unlike other variants, including delta, which is now dominant globally, and beta, which was detected by Prof de Oliveira’s team in South Africa earlier this year, the new variant has not yet been officially classified as a variant of concern.

Prof De Oliveira said the significance of the variant was still unknown, with scientists monitoring it to assess whether the mutations would have an impact on transmissibility or how dangerous it is. Viruses mutate all the time, and only some of the mutations change how the virus behaves.

Experts around the world urged caution, pointing out the small numbers of cases found so far.

You can read our report on the new variant in full here.