5 things you should know about the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529

New Delhi:
A new coronavirus variant – B.1.1.529 – has come under fire from scientists worldwide for an alarmingly high rate of peak mutations that may make the virus more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe symptoms.

Here are 10 things to know about the new COVID-19 strain:

  1. The B.1.1.529 variant has a total of 50 mutations, including more than 30 on the spike protein alone. The spike protein is the target of most current COVID-19 vaccines and is what the virus uses to access our body cells.

  2. There are also 10 mutations on the receptor binding domain portion of the variant, compared to two for the Delta variant. The Delta Plus variant mutating from the latter was characterized by the K417N mutation on the spike protein; this mutation has been associated with immune escape, but it is unclear whether this is one of the mutations in B.1.1.529.

  3. This new variant may have evolved from a single patient โ€” possibly during a chronic infection of an immunocompromised person (possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient), said Francois Balloux, the director of the UCL Genetics Institute.

  4. The strain was first identified in South Africa this week and has spread to nearby countries, including Botswana, where fully vaccinated people have been infected. More than 100 cases have been associated with this variant in South Africa, with several in Botswana.

  5. Two cases have also been discovered in Hong Kong, where two travelers arriving from parts of southern Africa were quarantined in separate rooms, in accordance with local law.

  6. Samples from the two infected people in Hong Kong showed “very high” viral loads, epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted this morning. “PCR Ct values โ€‹โ€‹of 18 and 19 … insanely high considering they were negative on recent PCR tests,” he said.

  7. More worryingly, the patients were in separate rooms, suggesting the variant is airborne. “…it looks like vaccine evasion could be real with this variant…and yes, it’s very up in the air. Hotel guests were in another room across the hall. Environmental samples found the virus in 25 out of 87 smears in both rooms,” Dr Feigl-Ding tweeted.

  8. India called on Thursday for strict screening of passengers from these countries. “This variant is said to have a significant number of mutations and thus has serious public health implications for the country, given the recently relaxed visa restrictions and the opening up of international travel,” the ministry said.

  9. The United Kingdom has taken swift action to suspend flights from six African countries, including South Africa and Botswana.

  10. The World Health Organization has called for caution in the early stages of treating this variant; more research needs to be done to understand how B.1.1.529 behaves, the global health agency said. dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical chief, underlined the importance of full vaccination.

With input from AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters

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