Scientists sound alarm over new ‘worst-ever’ super-mutant COVID variant that could make vaccines 40% less effective as the UK and Israel ban travel from South Africa and five other countries but passengers continue to stream in to US

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  • A newer COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.1.529, has a ‘very unusual constellation’ of mutations and may be more resistant to the vaccine.
  • The new version, known as the Botswana version and may be officially named Nu, is of concern to scientists because it is believed to evade the body’s immune response and be more permeable. could.
  • There are currently 77 confirmed cases in South Africa, four in Botswana and two in Hong Kong – although the actual number is likely to be much higher.
  • Britain’s health secretary announced on Thursday that flights to six southern African countries would be halted amid concerns over the new COVID-19 outbreak
  • Flights to the UK from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will remain suspended from Friday afternoon
  • Israel followed suit on Thursday, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett adding six plus Mozambique to a list of ‘red’ countries, essentially barring Israelis from traveling to seven countries.
  • There are no direct flights to the US from any of the seven countries except South Africa, which has 13 flights a week.

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Scientists are increasingly battling a new COVID-19 variant originating in southern Africa, which forced the UK and Israel on Thursday to effectively halt travel from the region, but travelers continue to arrive in the US.

The variant is believed to have emerged in Botswana – from where there is no direct flight to the US – and is also being found in neighboring South Africa.

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A third country, China, has recently reported a case after a Hong Kong traveler who had traveled from South Africa tested positive for the variant, and then infected another person while staying at the same hotel.

Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said the initial data from the edition was worrying, and that border restrictions should be imposed.

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“Looks like vaccine piracy may be real with this variant,” he tweeted, pointing out that two patients in Hong Kong who had the variant were both double-pocketed with the Pfizer vaccine Was.

One of the two was recently in southern Africa. Then that person gave it to another person quarantining in the same hotel.

‘It’s very airy,’ said Feigl-ding.

‘Hotel guests were in different rooms across the hallway from each other. In environmental samples, the virus was found in 25 out of 87 swabs in both the rooms.

Feigel-Ding said: ‘I think the border and travel restrictions are understandable. Especially since Hong Kong caught matter because of the mandatory hotel quarantine. Which countries in the west are still there??? almost nothing.’

Botswana has four confirmed cases, South Africa has 77 – the actual figure is likely in the hundreds – and Hong Kong has two, meaning 83 cases have been confirmed so far.

The UK and Israel effectively halted travel from southern Africa on Thursday, and some believe the US may follow suit

The variant – which may be named ‘Nu’ by the World Health Organization in the coming days – has caused an ‘exponential’ increase in infections in South Africa and has already spread to Hong Kong and Botswana, where that it has emerged.

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about this type,” Richard Lessells, an infectious disease physician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, said at a press briefing organized by the South African Department of Health on Thursday.

‘The mutation profile gives us concern, but we now need to work to understand the importance of this type and what it means for the response to the pandemic.’

On Thursday Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, sounded the alarm for what a senior scientific adviser in the UK called the ‘worst’ super-mutant COVID variant.

He said it could make vaccines at least 40 percent less effective, and as a result he said he banned flights from South Africa and five other regional countries.

Experts previously described how the b.1.1.1.529 variant has more than 30 mutations – the most ever recorded in one variant and twice the delta – which suggests that it is comparable to any earlier variant. Can be more jab-resistant and permeable.

In response, Javid announced that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be suspended starting Friday afternoon and all six countries would be added to the red list.

A baby cries in Dipslut township near Johannesburg, South Africa on October 21 as his mother receives the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19

A baby cries in Dipslut township near Johannesburg, South Africa on October 21 as his mother receives the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19

No cases have been reported in the UK so far, but everyone who has returned from South Africa in the last 10 days will be contacted and asked to be tested.

There are currently 13 direct flights a week from South Africa to the United States – Johannesburg and Cape Town are the only cities in the region from where it is possible to fly directly to the US.

If full, 13 flights can hold about 3,900 people.

United Airlines currently operates direct flights from Johannesburg to New York City seven days a week, with a 16-hour flight departing at 10 p.m. and arriving in Newark at 7 a.m.

United also operates direct flights from Cape Town to New York City three times a week on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

United flies Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which can carry 290 people.

Delta operates direct flights from Johannesburg to Atlanta on Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays.

They use the Airbus A350-900, which can seat 300 to 350 people.

Flight ‘restrictions’ have been implemented before – although they are rarely an outright ban on commercial flight to and from a country. Instead, they put strict restrictions on who can fly, meaning airlines themselves cancel routes because there are too few people who meet the requirements.

Donald Trump banned travel from China to the US in February 2020, and then the border between the US and Canada and the border between the US and Mexico were closed.

Joe Biden this month ended an 18-month ban on arrivals from the European Union, China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India, which had largely halted travel between the countries.

Some epidemiologists have argued that imposing a travel ban for South Africa is counterproductive, as it penalizes a country that has been transparent with its data – but others, such as Feigl-Ding, insist that travel Restrictions are necessary.

Meanwhile, South African scientists say they are ‘concerned by this type of growth spurt’.

Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

The variant has more than 30 mutations – almost twice as many as the delta variant – which could potentially make it more transmissible and evade the protection offered by prior infection or vaccination.

The British expert whose modeling helped spark the first coronavirus lockdown said the decision to impose travel restrictions was ‘prudent’.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the British Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: ‘The B1.1529 variant has an unprecedented number of mutations in the spike protein gene, the protein that most vaccines target. ,

‘There is therefore concern that this variant may have a greater ability to evade prior immunity than the previous variant.

‘It is also worrying that this variant is rapidly increasing the number of cases in South Africa. So the government’s move to restrict travel with South Africa is prudent.

‘However, we do not yet have a reliable estimate of the extent to which B.1.1.529 may be more permeable or more resistant to vaccines, so it is necessary to be able to provide an evidence-based assessment of risk. It’s too early. Posture.’

The slide above shows the proportion of tests that picked up a hallmark of the SGTF mutation, B.1.1.1.529.  This shows that the Kovid variant is spreading rapidly in the country.  Slides presented today at a briefing conducted by the South African government

The slide above shows the proportion of tests that picked up a hallmark of the SGTF mutation, B.1.1.1.529. This shows that the Kovid variant is spreading rapidly in the country. Slides presented today at a briefing conducted by the South African government

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the b.1.1.1.529 variant (blue) and the Indian 'delta' variant (red) over time in South Africa.  This suggests that the mutant strain can outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

This chart shows the proportion of cases that were the b.1.1.1.529 variant (blue) and the Indian ‘delta’ variant (red) over time in South Africa. This suggests that the mutant strain can outcompete Delta in the province within weeks

UKHSA experts have been advising ministers on the issue, with many scientists expressing serious concern over the variant due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.

A senior scientist said: ‘One of our major concerns is that this virus spike protein is so dramatically different from the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, this is a major cause for concern. ‘

World Health Organization (WHO) experts are meeting with South African officials on Friday to assess the evolving situation in the country.

Eventually the variant may be nicknamed ‘Nu’ – with the most closely related forms given to the name of the Greek alphabet.

The variant is already in three countries, suggesting it is more widespread than the official tally.

Two cases have been detected in Hong Kong – both had links to South Africa – three have been picked up in Botswana and the rest in South Africa.

But the lack of monitoring over continental Africa may have underestimated the true numbers there, the scientists warned.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of COVID surveillance in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, told a press conference on Thursday that it has been seen in almost every corner of South Africa.

He admitted he was still ‘unsure’ about the impact of the variant on the country’s pandemic, with other scientists saying it could develop so much that it becomes unstable.

But Professor Oliveria explained that the new variant is ‘obviously very different’ from previous strains, including the fact that it has five times more mutations on a specific part of the spike protein than Delta – meaning that It may be better able to infect vaccinated people than the world. Major stress.

He said officials expect to start seeing pressures in the healthcare system ‘unfortunately, in the next few days and weeks’.

South African Health Minister Joe Fahlum warned at the same press conference: ‘Here is a mutational version of the grave concern.’

He added: ‘We expected that we might have a long break between the waves – possibly it would stop by the end of December or even January next year.’

Current jabs train the immune system to recognize an older version of Spike, and too many changes to this protein make it harder for vaccinated people to fight it.

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