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South African Covid virus variant

Date: 04 February 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The WHO has identified three new variants of coronavirus originating in the UK, Brazil, and now in South Africa.

 

Background

Ever since scientists started tracking the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, it has become a cause for concern that the virus has developed multiple variants.

 

Details

  • These newer strains are more contagious and could render vaccine and antibody protection less effective and thereby, spread rapidly across dozens of countries in a short span of time.

  • The latest South African variant known as 20H/501Y.V2 or B.1.351, is different from the one in Britain and appears to be more infectious than the original virus.

  • This potentially more concerning variant has been spotted since December 22 last year and emerged independently of B.1.1.7 or the UK variant and shares some mutations with the same.

  • The South African variant carries a mutation called N501Y that appears to make it more contagious or easy to spread.

  • South African researchers believe the new strain is around 50 percent more contagious than the previous variants.

  • The WHO has called for more studies on the new strain and it stressed that observational studies in South Africa did not indicate an increased risk of reinfection.

  • This South African variant has become a major cause of worry for the scientists because of its unusually large number of mutations, especially in the spike protein.

  • Notably, the spike protein is also the part of the virus targeted by Covid-19 vaccines and antibody treatments.

  • Another mutation of the South African variant called E484K, which is not found in the UK strain, is said to help the virus dodge attack by a person’s immune system and hamper the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.

  • However, there is no evidence that Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved won’t work against the new strain.

  • Human clinical trials in South Africa suggest decreased efficiency of these vaccines as against the older variants.