Chain mutations and a high level of contagiousness: the new variant of Covid-19 makes South African authorities fear a new pandemic wave, following announcements made Thursday, November 25 by the scientific community of the country.

The B.1.1.529 variant shows an "extremely high" number of mutations and "we can see that it has the potential to spread very quickly," virologist Tulio de Oliveira told an online press conference overseen by the Ministry of Health. 

A vaccine resistant variant


His team at the Krisp research institute, backed by the University of Kwazulu-Natal, had already discovered the highly contagious Beta variant last year.

The metamorphoses of the initial virus can potentially make it more transmissible to the point of making it dominant: this was the case with the Delta variant initially discovered in India, and which according to the WHO reduced the effectiveness of anti- vaccines to 40%. Covid.

At this point, South African scientists are unsure of the effectiveness of existing anti-Covid vaccines against the new form of the virus. 

"What concerns us is that this variant might not only have an increased transmission capacity, but also be able to bypass parts of our immune system," said another researcher, Professor Richard Lessells.

To date, 22 cases have been reported, mostly affecting young people, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Cases have also been reported in neighboring Botswana and Hong Kong, on a person returning from a trip to South Africa. 

"Major threat"

"The number of cases detected and the percentage of positive tests are increasing rapidly," NICD confirmed in a statement, particularly in the most populous province of Gauteng, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Health facilities must expect a new wave of patients in the coming days or weeks, the scientists warned. 

South Africa, officially the most affected country on the continent by the virus, has seen a further rise in contamination in recent weeks.

First attributed to the Delta variant, the new variant is at the origin of this "exponential" increase and represents "a major threat", said the Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla.

The emergence of this new form "reinforces the fact that this invisible enemy we are dealing with is very unpredictable," he added. 

South Africa has had around 2.9 million cases since the start of the pandemic, resulting in 89,600 deaths.

More than 1,200 new cases in 24 hours were recorded Wednesday, against a hundred at the beginning of the month.

The authorities fear a new wave of pandemic by the end of the year.

With AFP

The summary of the week

France 24 invites you to come back to the news that marked the week

I subscribe

Take international news everywhere with you!

Download the France 24 application