New South African variant shakes the world

New South African variant shakes the world

With the resumption of the Covid-19 epidemic across Europe, the coronavirus is once again at the heart of the news. New twist in this seemingly endless series: the identification of a hypermuted variant, B1.1.529 in South Africa. The WHO is meeting urgently on November 26, 2021 to discuss his case.

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He was unknown last week. It causes an emergency meeting of the World Health Organization on November 26, 2021. A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 particularly worries scientists because he is “hypermute.” “ It emerged in South Africa, in the Johannesburg region around November 10. At the time of writing, 65 confirmed cases are listed in South Africa, 6 in Botswana and 4 in China (on Hong Kong Island). It is therefore less than 100 cases for which the genome is sequenced and identified.

THE’WHO has not yet decided on the profile of this variant: is it a variant of interest (VOI) or of concern (VOC). If it is considered a VOC, it could be that it is named Nu variant to follow the tradition of Greek letters. In the meantime, it is called B.1.1.529, in reference to its lineage phylogenetic.

More than 30 mutations in the S protein of this SARS-CoV-2 variant

Scientific information on B.1.1.529 is very limited and yet to be confirmed. But it has a significant number of mutations, more than 30, in its S protein, the very one that allows its attachment and entry into cells. Some of these mutations are present in the Alpha and Delta variants and by analogy, scientists fear that they also give B.1.1.529 the power to evade the immune system and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

The impact of mutations on the behavior of this new variant is yet to be confirmed. There is still little information on the state of health of people infected with B.1.1.529, and therefore it is impossible to conclude on the severity of the symptoms that it provokes.

The successor to the Delta variant?

Several countries, including France, have already announced the suspension of their air links with South Africa and its neighbors to prevent the spread of B.1.1.529. The confirmed cases on Hong Kong Island were travelers from the country. If theemergence of this variant seems to worry the scientific community, the limited data available calls for caution. It could only be one of the many variants of SARS-CoV-2 to emerge without overtaking the others.

Further scientific studies are needed to know if we are dealing with a variant as contagious as the Delta variant. In South Africa, the B1.1.529 variant seems to propagate faster than the latter. The next few weeks should tell us more about B.1.1.529.

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