A new variant of the COVID-19 virus called the Botswana variant has emerged, with the scientific name B.1.1.529.
The new variant has sparked concern among experts, given that it has many mutations and has the potential to weaken the efficacy of the current COVID-19 vaccine. The variant, which was first detected in Botswana, has 32 mutations.
Its high mutation rate is feared to complicate the immune system’s efforts to attack pathogens.
“This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to further study the transmission, severity, and susceptibility of this variant to a vaccine,” said UKHSA Chief Executive Jenny Harries, quoted from Reuters.
Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, said research in his lab found that two mutations in B.1.1.529 were poorly recognised by antibodies. This is a sign that the antibodies that have been built by the existing COVID-19 vaccine are less able to recognise and fight the Botswana variant.
“This mutation is indeed a concern. However, the main thing to look at is the ability to transmit the virus. This is what drives the Delta variant. (Ability) to evade immunity is only part of the picture of what might happen,” said Gupta.
So far, there are three countries that have detected the B.1.1.529 variant.
Cases of this new variant were first discovered in Botswana on 11th November. The Botswana Health Ministry confirmed that there have been four cases of the new variant detected. According to The Straits Times, the four patients had all received full vaccinations.
2. South Africa
On 14th November, South Africa recorded the country’s first finding of the Botswana variant. According to South Africa’s National Institute for Infectious Diseases, there have been 22 cases of the new variant detected in the country to date.
Scientists say variant B.1.1529 has at least 10 mutations. This number is higher than the two mutations for the Delta variant and three mutations for the Beta variant.
3. Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Health Ministry detected two cases of the Botswana variant on Thursday 25th November. One case was found to be a 36-year-old man who had just returned from South Africa. He reportedly had a negative PCR test before flying from Hong Kong to South Africa.
He briefly stayed in South Africa from 22nd October to 11th November. He later tested negative on his return to Hong Kong but tested positive on 13th November while undergoing quarantine.
Hong Kong also detected another case of the Botswana variant. This case was detected in a 62-year-old man who was the 36-year-old man’s quarantine neighbour. Previously, the man had traveled to Canada.
The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said that a recent investigation into the two cases showed that they had very similar genetic sequences.