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Updated on: Friday, November 26, 2021, 03:46 PM IST

10 Things you need to know about new B.1.1.529 variant that may be more infectious than delta

On Thursday the Union Health Ministry called for rigorous screening of passengers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, as well as their contacts.
Photo: Unspash

Photo: Unspash

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New Delhi: The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which is causing an increase in new COVID-19 infections in South Africa, has not been found in India so far, confirmed an official sources on Friday.

However, according to an NDTV report, the variant has been red-flagged by scientists for its extremely high number of spike mutations that could be capable of making the COVID-19 virus more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe infections.

Hence here are 10 things to know about the new B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, that may be more infectious than delta.

  1. Overall, the B.1.1.529 variant has fifty mutations, including more than thirty on the spike protein alone. This spike protein is the target of most COVID-19 vaccines currently and is what the virus makes use of in order to unlock access to our body's cells. Researchers are still trying to confirm whether this makes it more transmissible or dangerous than previous variants.

  2. There are also ten mutations on the receptor binding domain area of the new variant, in comparison to two for the Delta variant. The Delta Plus that mutated from the latter was characterised by the K417N mutation on the spike protein; this has been connected to immune escape, but it isn't clear if this is among the mutations in B.1.1.529.

  3. There is speculation on the origin of the variant, but it may have evolved from a single patient. The Director of the London-based UCL Genetics Institute, Francois Balloux has said it may have originated from a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, who could possibly be an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.

  4. First reported in South Africa this week, the variant has spread to neighboring countries, including Botswana, where fully inoculated people have been infected. In South Africa over hundred infections have been linked to this variant, with several more in Botswana.

  5. Two infections have been reported in Hong Kong - where travellers (vaccinated with the Pfizer) from parts of southern Africa were isolated in separate rooms. Samples returned "very high" viral loads, epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted. "PCR Ct values of 18 and 19... insanely high considering they were negative on recent PCR tests," he said.

  6. As the patients were in separate rooms, there is concern this variant is airborne. "... looks like vaccine evasion could be real with this variant... and yes, it is very airborne. Hotel guests were in different room across the hallway. Environmental samples found the virus in 25 of 87 swab across both rooms," Dr Feigl-Ding tweeted.

  7. Israel on Friday morning recorded its first infection by the B.1.1.529 variant; the traveller was returning from the African nation of Malawi, Dr Feigl-Ding tweeted.

  8. India on Thursday called for thorough screening of travellers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong. "This variant... has serious public health implications in the view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel," the ministry said.

    The United Kingdom, Singapore and Israel have halted flights from South Africa, Botswana and four other African countries. Australia may tighten regulations for incoming passengers as well.

  9. Indian equity benchmarks nosedived Friday with the benchmark S&P BSE sensex falling more than 1,400 points and the Nifty 50 index falling below 17,100 on weak global cues after investor sentiment was wrecked by detection of the new variant. News of the variant miffed world markets, with stocks relating to travel in Asia being the worst hit.

  10. The WHO has urged for caution in the initial stages of dealing with the B.1.1.529 variant; more research needs to be done to understand how the variant behaves, the global health body stated. WHO's COVID-19 Technical Lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, pressed on the importance of ensuring complete inoculation.

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Published on: Friday, November 26, 2021, 03:46 PM IST
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