President Cyril Ramaphosa has summonsed the National Coronavirus Command Council to a meeting this weekend to discus the emergence of a brand-new Covid-19 variant in Mzansi. This, after the country’s top health and science authorities, including health minister Joe Phaahla, confirmed many South Africans’ worst fear: the pandemic is far from over.
Phaahla and Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a leading bioinformatician and director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, confirmed that B.1.1.529 has ushered in the coronavirus fourth wave. This variant already has a high frequency in Gauteng amid a dramatic nationwide scramble to monitor the frequency and impact of the variant.
“We expect new variants to continue to emerge wherever the virus is spreading,” the NICD said in a media release.
B.1.1.529, which was discovered through collaborative efforts with private laboratories and members of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, is said to have a high number of mutations.
The NICD further added, that “This lineage possesses a high number of mutations previously seen in other SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest (VOI) or variants of concern (VOC) but also other mutations which are novel.”
What you should know about the B.1.1.529 variant
Distinct mutation: The B.1.1.529 variant currently shares a few common mutations with the C.1.2, Beta and Delta variants. It has a number of additional mutations. At the present, the B.1.1.529 lineage is relatively distinct from the C.1.2, Beta and Delta variants and has a different evolutionary pathway.
Symptoms: Currently no unusual symptoms have been reported following infection with the B.1.1.529 variant and as with other variants some individuals are asymptomatic.
WHO not yet concerned: The new strain has not fulfilled the World Health Organisation’s criteria for a so-called variant of concern. This will however be revisited, as the virus spreads and data is accumulated.
Possible implications: Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2, changes with time. While some of the mutations in the B.1.1.529 variant have arisen in other Covid variants of concern or variants of interest, the NICD said it was being cautious about the implications. The NICD is establishing a real time system to monitor hospitalisation and outcome associated with B.1.1.529.
The NICD said that vaccination remained critical in the protection of those in communities at high risk of hospitalisation and death, to reduce strain on the health system, and to help slow transmission.
Government further urged South Africans to remain vigilant against Covid-19 and play their part in protecting themselves and the broader community by having themselves vaccinated, while scientists investigate the newly identified coronavirus variant, B.1.1.529.
Minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said South Africans must take all measures to protect themselves against coronavirus infection, beginning with vaccination against Covid-19.
“Alongside vaccination, the wearing of face masks, frequent washing or sanitation of hands, keeping a social distance and the avoidance of gatherings remain a proven, effective means of stopping or slowing the spread of coronavirus infection,” he said.
“The virus has not been eradicated and vaccination protects us from serious illness, hospitalisation or death.”