New COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa sparks travel bans and an anxious wait for data

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Johannesburg — A probably harmful new pressure of the coronavirus is alarming scientists around the globe and prompting governments to ban vacationers from southern African nations. The variant was first detected in South Africa, the place scientists had been fast to flag it to the worldwide well being neighborhood.

As CBS News correspondent Debora Patta studies, there’s severe concern amongst specialists that the brand new pressure might set again the battle in opposition to the pandemic. 

South African officers say the variant, which has extra mutations than beforehand detected strains which have emerged around the globe, marks an enormous “jump in the evolution” of the virus because the international well being disaster started two years in the past.

The concern is that it may very well be extra transmissible and or extra immune to the present vaccine formulation, based on public well being professional Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

“If this variant is as, or more transmissible than the Delta variant, it will be very difficult to anticipate it, to do anything different to what we have seen, which is that it would grow and spread across the world,” he instructed CBS News.

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South African scientists have been working across the clock this week to find out simply how unhealthy the brand new variant, which so far is being referred to solely as B.1.1.529, actually is. Lab outcomes are nonetheless a couple of weeks away.

But regardless of the World Health Organization’s name for “a risk-based and scientific approach” because it urged nations to not undertake travel restrictions but, some nations determined to not wait for the detailed scientific evaluation. Britain, France and Israel have cancelled direct flights from South Africa and surrounding nations.

 

So far fewer than 100 instances of the brand new variant have been confirmed, largely amongst younger individuals in South Africa, who’ve the bottom vaccination rate in the nation.

A passenger is seen carrying a face masks in a taxi in Soweto, South Africa, on November 26, 2021, after the announcement of British and French bans on flights from the nation due to the detection of a brand new COVID-19 variant there.

SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS

Botswana and Hong Kong additionally confirmed instances in vacationers who had lately returned from South Africa, and on Friday, Israel stated three individuals who had additionally simply returned from overseas had been contaminated with the pressure. One of these sufferers got here in from Malawi, however Israeli officers did not specify the place the opposite two had flown in from. All three had been positioned underneath necessary isolation on Friday.

 

Health officers in South Africa stated the response by different nations was untimely, given how little was understood but in regards to the new pressure. Karim famous that it was solely detected due to South Africa’s wonderful scientific surveillance of COVID-19 instances, which particularly hunts for new variants. Few different nations have such a sturdy genomic sequencing program to search out the strains.

“It is true that other countries that may not have the same level of diligence,” he instructed CBS News, which suggests different nations, “may well have new variants like either this one or others. They just don’t know about it.”

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Since the primary coronavirus vaccines grew to become out there greater than a year in the past, the WHO and public well being specialists around the globe have warned that if doses aren’t shared with growing nations, even well-vaccinated nations shall be in danger as new, probably extra harmful variants are given the house — and unprotected human hosts — they should evolve.

With lower than 7% of the African continent’s complete inhabitants vaccinated to this point, there was mounting stress on pharmaceutical corporations and the wealthiest nations to redress the massive imbalance in vaccine distribution.

Pfizer’s accomplice BioNTech stated on Friday that it was already learning the efficacy of the businesses’ COVID vaccine system in opposition to the brand new pressure.

“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest,” a BioNTech spokesperson instructed the French information company AFP. “These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”

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