New Botswana variant considered ‘most evolved Covid strain’ may be worst ever

The B.1.1.529 strain was first discovered two weeks ago in Botswana, but has already spread to another continent (Photo: AP)

A new Covid-19 strain with an ‘incredibly high’ number of mutations has surfaced and could cause infections worldwide, scientists warn.

Only 10 cases of the Botswana variant have been discovered so far, but since it has already been reported in three countries, that number could grow rapidly.

The strain, also known as B.1.1.529, carries 32 mutations, many of which suggest it is more resistant to vaccines and highly transmissible.

It has more changes to its spike protein — a tool that helps a virus enter a cell — than any other variant to date.

This can make it difficult for vaccines to fight it, as they train the immune system to recognize older versions of the spike.

Scientists haven’t officially named the species yet, but it could eventually be named after the Greek letter “Nu.”

The first cases of the variant were found in Botswana on November 11, followed by six in South Africa.

A Profile of the Botswana Covid Variant B.1.1.529

Some mutations of the virus make it easier to spread between people and evade antibodies

Where has the Botswana Covid variant been spotted

The species quickly spread to South Africa and was then brought to Hong Kong by a traveler returning to the country

Another single case was discovered in Hong Kong involving a traveler returning from South Africa.

The 36-year-old man tested negative on his return, but then had a positive test on Nov. 13 while in quarantine.

dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said the variant could be “really concerning.”

On Twitter, he wrote that the species “needs to be monitored very, very much because of that horrific peak profile.”

He added: ‘Exports to Asia imply that this could be more widespread than sequences alone would imply.

Also the extremely long branch length and the incredibly high spike mutation rate suggest that this could be a concern (predicted escape of most known monoclonal antibodies).

All Covid-19 variants officially named so far

The new variant has yet to be officially named, but will likely be called “Nu” – the next letter in the Greek alphabet

Daily cases in the UK may be higher than South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, but a highly vaccinated population and high levels of antibodies keep hospital admissions low

“It’s worth emphasizing that this is currently in super low numbers in a region of Africa that has been sampled fairly well, but it needs to be very much monitored because of that horrific peak profile (I suspect this antigen would be worse than almost anything else.” otherwise about).’

dr. Peacock added that he “hopes” the variant turns out to be a “strange cluster” that isn’t as widespread as feared.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said the large number of mutations had apparently accumulated in a ‘single burst’.

He suggests that the strain may have evolved during a chronic infection in a person with a weakened immune system – possibly an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.

Professor Balloux added: ‘I would certainly expect it to be poorly recognized by neutralizing antibodies to Alpha or Delta.

“How transmissible it is at this stage is difficult to predict. For now it needs to be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no need to worry too much unless it starts to increase in frequency in the near future.”

There are currently no countries on England’s red travel list, requiring travelers who had to return to the country to quarantine at a government-sanctioned hotel.

People traveling to the UK who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to take a pre-test, although they must do so within two days of landing.

Those who have not had both shots must test negative before travel and undergo two PCR tests on arrival.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says countries can be added back to the red list if necessary.

dr. Meera Chand, from the UKHSA, said: ‘The UK Health Security Agency, in collaboration with scientific bodies around the world, is constantly monitoring the status of SARS-CoV-2 variants as they emerge and develop globally.

“Since it is in the nature of viruses to mutate frequently and randomly, it is not uncommon for a small number of cases to arise with new series of mutations. Variants that show signs of spread are quickly assessed.’

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