By NewsDesk  @bactiman63

Last week, the South Africa National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced changes in SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.

Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) reports detecting a new lineage, which is a group of mutated viruses, of SARS-CoV-2 in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. This lineage possesses between 10-20 mutations that were not previously seen in viruses from South Africa prior to September 2020.

This week, Public Health England (PHE) reported two cases of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, which originated in South Africa.

The 2 cases were identified in the UK on 22 December 2020 and both have been in contact with someone who has travelled from South Africa.

The new variant named B1.351 (also referred to as 501Y.V2) was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples at the beginning of October. Molecular dating suggests that it could have been in circulation from the end of August.

The rapid spread of the variant in South Africa could be an indication of increased transmissibility but this is not yet confirmed. PHE is investigating this variant and will share its findings in due course. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. Epidemiological and virological investigations are also ongoing in South Africa.

It is not uncommon for viruses to undergo mutations; seasonal influenza mutates every year. More than 4,000 variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been identified in the UK and variants have been observed in many other countries.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19 to PHE & Test and Trace, said:

We are investigating this new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which originated in South Africa. Viruses often evolve and this is not unusual. We are carrying out work as a priority to understand the potential risk this variant may cause. It is important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccine would not protect against it.

The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.