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10 Things To Know About New Coronavirus Variant With Multiple Mutations

New Delhi:
A new variant – B.1.1.529 – has been red-flagged by scientists globally over an alarmingly high number of spike mutations that might make the virus more resistant to vaccines, increase transmissibility and lead to more severe symptoms.

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

  1. The B.1.1.529 variant has 50 mutations overall, 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’s cells.

  2. There are also 10 mutations on the receptor binding domain part of the variant, compared to two for the Delta variant. The Delta Plus variant that mutated from the latter was characterised by the K417N mutation on the spike protein; this mutation has been linked to immune escape, but it is unclear if this is among the mutations in B.1.1.529.

  3. This new variant may have evolved from a single patient – possibly during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person (possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient) Francois Balloux, the Director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said.

  4. First identified in South Africa this week, the strain has spread to nearby countries, including Botswana, where fully vaccinated people have been infected. In South Africa over 100 cases have been linked to this variant, with several more in Botswana.

  5. Two cases have also been detected in Hong Kong – where two travellers arriving from parts of southern Africa had been quarantined, in line with local laws, in separate rooms.

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

  7. What is more worrying is the patients were in separate rooms, suggesting the 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.

  8. On Thursday India called for rigorous screening of passengers from these countries. “This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” the ministry said.

  9. The United Kingdom has moved quickly to suspend flights from six African countries, including South Africa and Botswana.

  10. The World Health Organization has called for caution in the initial stages of dealing with this variant; more research needs to be conducted to understand how B.1.1.529 behaves, the global health body said. Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 Technical Lead, underlined the importance of ensuring complete vaccination.

With input from AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters

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