New Covid-19 variant found in South Africa & Hong Kong might be resistant to vaccines

Singapore will be barring entry to travellers with recent travel history in seven African countries.

Faris Alfiq | November 26, 2021, 03:20 PM

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South African scientists have detected a new Covid-19 variant, known as B.1.1.529, with a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, Reuters reported.

According to The Guardian, so far, cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

Scientists said that the mutations are concerning as they could help the virus evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible.

More than 30 mutations on spike protein

They described the B.1.1.529 variant as the worst variant they had seen since the start of the pandemic, with 32 mutations on the spike proteins.

Spike proteins are the part of the virus which most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid-19.

Mutations in the spike protein mean that it could affect the virus's ability to infect cells and spread to others.

It also makes it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.

According to scientists, the number of mutations on the new variant is double that of the Delta variant, which is the dominant variant globally, The Guardian reported.

Despite limited data, scientists are working now to understand the new variant. 

Found in South Africa, Hong Kong, Botswana

South Africa has confirmed around 100 specimens of B.1.1.529, with 90 per cent of the new cases in Gauteng, a province in South Africa, could be due to the new variant, Reuters reported.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong.

Two cases were detected in Hong Kong earlier in November from travellers who were quarantined separately.

One was travelling from South Africa on Nov. 11, and was tested positive two days later.

Another case was a traveller arriving from Canada.

As a response, 12 people who stayed in the three rooms near the two men from Nov. 11 to 14 were taken to Penny's Bay Quarantine Centre, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.

Even with the new discovery, South African health minister Joe Phaahla said that it was still too early to decide to impose tougher restrictions in response to the variant.

UK, Israel ban flights from South Africa

As a response to the new variant, the British government announced that they are banning flights from South Africa, and five other southern African countries. The ban will kick in at 12pm local time on Friday, Nov. 26 (8pm in Singapore), the BBC reported.

Individuals who had recently arrived from the banned countries would be asked to get tested for Covid-19.

UK health secretary Sajid Javid said that there are concerns that the new variant may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, and that the vaccines may be less effective against it.

The Guardian added that Israel also announced that they will ban their citizens from travelling to southern Africa.

The country is also stopping the entry of foreign travellers from the region.

Singapore bars entry for travellers from seven African countries

In light of the new variant, Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Nov. 26 that they will restrict entry to travellers with recent travel history in these seven African countries: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The ban will kick in at 11.59pm on Saturday, Nov. 27.

All long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with travel history to the listed countries within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit in Singapore.

MOH added that the restrictions apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.

Returning Singaporeans and permanent residents from the seven countries will have to serve a 10-day stay-home-notice at a dedicated facility.

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Top image via Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash