Scientists in South Africa on Thursday detected a new coronavirus variant with mutations that marked a “big jump in evolution.”
The variant, B1.1.529, was identified after observing an increase in infections in Johannesburg, South Africa. So far, 22 positive cases have been identified in the country, according to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. Two cases have also been reported from Hong Kong, with both having a link to someone who had travelled from South Africa.
The new variant emerged when several countries were preparing to ease the international travel restrictions. The new variant prompted many countries to limit travel from the region.
So far, the UK, Israel and Singapore have restricted travel from South Africa along with some neighbouring countries considering the new threat.
The new variant has a “constellation” of new mutations, said Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa.
The “very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility,” said de Olivera.