A new viral species with unusual mutations has been discovered in South Africa. Fears are growing that the alternative will be more contagious. But state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell thinks it’s too early to draw any conclusions. “With so little information we have now, there’s not much we can do,” he says.
The new variant, called B.1.1.529, was recently discovered in Botswana and has since emerged in Hong Kong and South Africa, where at least a hundred cases are said to have been found.
At a press conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, it emerged that the variant carries an unusual constellation of mutations that can circulate around the body’s immune system, thus making the virus more contagious.
The new variant must contain at least ten different mutations, to compare it with the most infectious variants to date, which contains two.
There are no Swedish cases of B.1.1.529
According to the Swedish Public Health Agency, no cases of B.1.1.529 have been reported in Sweden so far, and the agency is not aware of any cases in Europe either.
Researchers and politicians in many countries have expressed serious concern about the variable, but state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell believes it is too early to draw any far-reaching conclusions.
– There have been quite a few variables that have been on the agenda during this relatively long period of time that we have had to be involved, and none have succeeded in breaking through. He says with so little information we have now, we can’t do much.
How do you see the large number of mutations compared to deltas?
– Several of the earlier variants got it too, so I don’t think this one stands out much. What makes it even more remarkable is that it appears to be growing very quickly in South Africa, but there are many other factors that can influence.
– It’s a new type. It contains mutations in this nail protein that had several variants, and there is a possibility that it could affect immunity as well as some dispersal ability.
Is there a risk that existing vaccines may protect less than this alternative?
We’ll see when we get better data about it. We know that with the vaccine production model we have today, it is entirely possible and even relatively easy to change the vaccine if necessary.
Britain suspends flights
The United Kingdom announced late on Thursday that all flights from six countries – South Africa, Botswana, Eswahini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe – would be halted from Friday noon. Israel and Singapore have also imposed travel restrictions.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Friday morning that the EU also wants to stop all flights between South Africa and the EU. Many EU countries have already made their own decisions about the enhanced restrictions.
Anders Tegnell doesn’t think the travel ban will have any significant impact, other than for countries with direct flights to affected areas.
– Then you end up in a slightly different situation, like we did with Iran last year. Then I can see that you’re doing this assessment, but other than that it’s basically impossible to keep track of all travel flows.
Recently, on Thursday, the government extended the temporary entry ban, which means that those entering Sweden from non-Nordic countries must present a certificate of vaccination. To introduce a complete ban on flying, a new government decision is required.
On Thursday, the new virus variant was placed on the WHO’s watch list. This is where variants suspected of posing a risk, but whose effect is not clear, end up. The WHO expert group will meet on Friday to decide whether the variant should be declared as a variable of interest or concern.
If B.1.1.529 is raised to the list of troublesome variants, there is a lot to suggest that – such as alpha, beta, gamma and delta – it was set from the Greek alphabet.
Facts: WHO classification of coronavirus mutations
To keep track of different virus variants, the World Health Organization, the World Health Organization, has created four different classifications:
Variables of concern (variants of concern)
Previously monitored variables
The list of worrisome variables currently includes the four alpha, beta, gamma, and delta variants.
The list of interests includes lambda and mu variables.
There are eight variants in the watch list, one of which is the new variant B.1.1.529.
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