LONDON: Britain said on Thursday it is concerned over a newly identified coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa that could make vaccines a less effective and risky effort to fight the pandemic.
The UK Health Protection Agency said the variant, called B.1.1.529, contains a spike protein that differs dramatically from the one in the original coronavirus that the COVID-19 vaccine was based on. Is.
“This is the most important variant to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmission potential, severity and vaccine-susceptibility,” said UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harris.
The variant was first identified earlier this week, but Britain rushed to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighboring countries, which is currently acting more quickly than the flagship Delta version.
“What we do know is that there is a significant number of mutations, probably double the number of mutations we have seen in the delta variant,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told broadcasters.
“And that would suggest that it may be more permeable and that the current vaccines that we have in place may be less effective.”
Britain announced on Friday it was temporarily banning flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from 1200 GMT, and British travelers returning from those destinations would have to quarantine.
Javid said more data was needed on the variant, but that travel restrictions were necessary as a precaution.
The scientists said laboratory studies were needed to assess the potential for the mutation that resulted in the vaccine’s effectiveness being greatly reduced.
Earlier on Thursday, South African scientists said they had detected a small number of new COVID-19 variants and were working to understand its possible effects.
The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, but the UK’s Health Protection Agency said no cases have been detected in the UK.
Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said the spike protein in B.1.1529 had an “unprecedented” number of mutations and that there was a recent rapid increase in case numbers in South Africa.
“Therefore, the government’s move to restrict travel with South Africa is prudent,” he said.
“However, we do not yet have a reliable estimate of the extent to which B.1.1529 may be more permeable or more resistant to vaccines, so it is necessary to be able to provide an evidence-based assessment of risk.” Too early. Pose.”
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