British scientists have discovered a new type of COVID that carries an “extremely high number” of mutations and can trigger more waves of disease by evading the body’s defences, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.
In total, 10 cases in three countries have been confirmed by genetic sequencing, but this variant has caused great concern among some researchers because many mutations can help the virus evade immunity, according to a publication in the Spanish newspaper 20 Minutes.
The B.1.1.529 variant contains 32 mutations in the spike protein, which is part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect and spread cells, but they also make it more difficult for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
The variant was first discovered in Botswana, where three cases have now been sequenced. Six more have been confirmed in South Africa and one in Hong Kong in a traveler returning from South Africa.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, posted details of the new variant on the Genome Sharing website, noting that “the incredibly large number of spike mutations suggests this may be a real concern”.
In a series of tweets, Peacock said that “a lot more needs to be monitored, and a lot more because of this horrible peak profile,” but added that it might turn out to be a “strange group” that isn’t very contagious. “I hope this is the case,” he wrote.
The first cases of this species were collected in Botswana on 11 November and the oldest were recorded in South Africa three days later. The case found in Hong Kong was that of a 36-year-old man who tested negative for PCR before traveling from Hong Kong to South Africa, where he stayed from October 22 to November 11. He tested negative upon his return to Hong Kong, but tested positive on November 13 while he was in quarantine.
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