“At first it looked like some cluster outbreaks, but from yesterday came the indication from our researchers from the Network of Genomic Surveillance that they were observing a new variant,” said Health Minister Joe Phaahla, stressing that it is currently unclear where the variant is. – currently christened B.1.1.529 – first appeared.
It has so far been discovered in South Africa, Botswana and by a traveler to Hong Kong from South Africa, Phaahla added.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said the variant has “many more mutations than we expected,” adding that it “is spreading very fast and we expect to see pressure in the health system in it. next few days and weeks. ”
He advised the public to “try to avoid super-proliferation events.”
Officials also expressed concern that the mutation could result in immunosuppression and increased transmissibility of the virus, but added that it is too early to say what effect the mutations will have on the effectiveness of the vaccine. More studies also need to be conducted to understand the clinical severity of the variant compared to previous variants, officials said.
“The full significance of this variant remains uncertain and the best tool we have is still the vaccines,” De Oliveira said. He added that laboratory tests still need to be performed to test vaccine and antibody evasion.
Britain bans flights from 6 African countries
Also on Thursday, British officials announced that six African countries would be added to England’s “red list” after the British Health Security Agency had expressed concern over the variant.
British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said flights to Britain from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be suspended from Friday noon and all six countries would be added to the red list – meaning residents of Britain and British and Irish nationals Arriving home from these points of departure, you must undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine at your own expense.
Javid added that the UK “has not discovered any of this new variant” in the country so far.
On Friday, South African officials will brief the World Health Organization, which has classified B.1.1.529 as a “variant under surveillance.”
CNN’s Duarte Mendonca contributed to this report.