While the world fears third wave of COVID-19, a new 'Botswana' variant of COVID-19 has been detected that is the most mutated version of the virus yet, according to experts. The new strain B.1.1.529, its scientific name, is believed to have emerged in 'Botswana' and could eventually be named 'Nu'.
But it has already been spotted in three countries - Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong, suggesting the variant is more widespread.
What is Botswana variant?
The variant carries 32 mutations, many of which suggest it is highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant, and has more alterations to its spike protein than any other variant. Changes to the spike make it difficult for current jabs to fight off, because they train the immune system to recognise an older version of this part of the virus.
Professor Francois Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, said it likely emerged in a lingering infection in an immunocompromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS, the report said.
Is this variant dangerous than Delta?
It’s not just that this new variant is super-mutated – it’s more down to HOW this thing has mutated. It carries several spike proteins that are commonly found in other dangerous strains, which have in turn sparked new waves in other parts of the world. The lineage of B.1.1.529 is undeniably troublesome.
The variant has the potential to be 'worse than nearly anything else about' -- including the world-dominant Delta strain.
It has been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong, and Mzansi. Scientists addressing an NICD briefing on Thursday believe this variant is now ‘spreading rapidly’ in Gauteng, and will be present ‘in almost every province’ at this point.
Reports say that epidemiological experts are already bracing for a fairly heavy impact.
Dozens of new variants have been discovered around the world in the past 18 months, and very few of them do anything to trouble the scientific community. But with this strain, initially discovered in Botswana, the NICD and SA’s Health Department are on high alert.
What do scientists and virologists have to say?
Professor Francois Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, said it likely emerged in a lingering infection in an immunocompromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College who first picked up on its spread, described the variant's combination of mutations as 'horrific'.
Scientists told MailOnline, however, that its unprecedented number of mutations might work against it and make it 'unstable', preventing it from becoming widespread. They said there was 'no need to be overly concerned' because there were no signs yet that it was spreading rapidly.
Where has been the variant found currently?
Three infections have been detected in Botswana to date and six in South Africa -- where variant surveillance is more robust. One case has also been spotted in a 36-year-old man in Hong Kong who recently returned from the continent, the report added.
There are no cases in Britain. But the UK Health Security Agency, which took over from the Public Health England, said it was monitoring the situation closely.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)