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EXPLAINER: What is this new COVID variant in South Africa? | St. Louis News Headlines – St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri 2021-11-27 07:42:00 –

London (AP) — What is this new COVID-19 variant?

South African scientists have identified a new version of the coronavirus this week that they say is behind the recent surge in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous state. The place where the new variant first appeared is unknown, but South African scientists first warned the World Health Organization and are now seen by travelers to Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was associated with an “exponential increase” in cases over the past few days, but experts will still determine if the new variant is actually responsible. It is supposed to be.

In South Africa, the number of new confirmed cases per day has risen slightly to 2,465 on Thursday, while the number of new confirmed cases per day has slightly exceeded 200 in recent weeks. Struggling to explain the sudden increase in cases, scientists studied virus samples from outbreaks and discovered new variants.

In a statement on Friday, WHO designated it as a “variant of concern” and named it “Omicron” after the Greek alphabet.

After convening a group of experts to evaluate the data, the United Nations Health Agency said, “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant compared to other variants. I have. “

“The number of cases of this variant seems to be increasing in almost every state of South Africa,” WHO said.

Why are scientists worried about this new variant?

There appear to be numerous mutations (about 30) in the coronavirus peplomer, which can affect the susceptibility to transmission to people.

Sharon Peacock, who led the COVID-19 sequencing in the UK at the University of Cambridge, suggests that previous data have mutations that are “consistent with increased transmissibility” in the new mutants. “Many of the mutations are not yet known for their importance.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described Omicron as “the most mutated version I’ve ever seen.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s premier infectious disease doctor, said U.S. officials called South African responders late Friday to look into the details, saying there were no signs that the variant had arrived in the United States yet. rice field.

What is known and unknown about variants?

Scientists know that Omicron is genetically different from previous mutants, including beta and delta mutants, but it is clear whether these genetic changes make it more contagious or dangerous. not. So far, there are no signs that the variants cause more serious illness.

Omicron is more infectious and it can take weeks to sort out if the vaccine is still effective against it.

Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the current vaccine was “very unlikely” to fail and was effective against many other variants.

Some of the genetic changes in Omicron look worrisome, but it is still unclear if they pose a public health threat. Some earlier variants, such as the beta version, surprised scientists at first, but eventually became less popular.

“I don’t know if this new variant can gain a foothold in some areas of the Delta,” said Peacock of the University of Cambridge. “The jury is considering how well this variant works when other variants are in circulation.” To date, Delta is the predominant form of COVID-19 and the largest in the world. It accounts for more than 99% of the sequences submitted to the public database of.

How did this new variant come about?

Coronaviruses mutate as they spread, and many new variants, including those worried about genetic alterations, often only die. Scientists monitor the COVID-19 sequence for mutations that can make the disease more contagious or fatal, but the virus alone cannot tell.

In a scenario similar to what experts think of the alpha mutant (first identified in the UK), Peacock said the mutant “is infected but couldn’t get rid of the virus, so the virus has an opportunity to evolve genetically. Gave. ” It also emerged by mutating people with weakened immunity.

Are travel bans justified in some countries?

Maybe. As of noon on Friday, travelers arriving in the United Kingdom from Southern Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will need to self-quarantine for 10 days. European Union countries have also swiftly moved to ban air travel from South Africa on Friday, and the United States also said it would ban travel by non-US citizens from South Africa and seven other African countries from Monday.

Given the recent rapid increase in COVID-19 in South Africa, restricting travel from this area is “wise” and will spend more time on authorities, Imperial College London infectious disease experts. Neil Ferguson said.

Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s COVID-19 Genetics, believed that early detection of new variants could have greater impact on current restrictions than when delta variants first appeared. ..

“In Delta, it took weeks to see what was happening, and Delta had already sowed seeds in many parts of the world, and it was too late to do anything about it,” he said. I did. “We may be in the early stages of this new variant, so we may still have time to do something about it.”


The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Science Education Department of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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