New COVID variant sparks international alarm — live updates | News | DW

  •  Officials have sounded the alarm over a new highly contagious variant in South Africa
  •  The WHO will hold emergency talks Friday regarding the new variant
  •  Countries around the world race to shut down air traffic from South Africa

This article was last updated at 10:00 UTC.

What do we know about the variant?

B.1.1.529 has multiple mutations and it could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, South African scientists said on Thursday.

While the delta variant has two mutations and the beta variant has three — the B.1.1.529 variant has at least 32 spike protein mutations.

Younger people appear to be contracting and spreading the newly identified variant, but the next weeks will be key in determining how severe the variant is, scientists said.

Israel finds case of variant

Israel’s Health Ministry said it had detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant in a person returning from Malawi.

In a statement Friday, the ministry said the individual and two other individuals with suspected cases of the variant were all in quarantine. All three were fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held consultations with health experts Friday regarding the variant. On Thursday, authorities announced travel to southern Africa from Israel for citizens was banned and foreign nationals from the region would be denied entry.

“We are currently on the verge of a state of emergency,” Bennett said.

Officials sound the alarm 

Scientists are studying the variant that was first detected in South Africa earlier in the week. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa said 22 cases of the new B.1.1.529 variant, as it is known, had been detected in the country but that it expected more cases as genomic analysis is ongoing.

The WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said there are currently fewer than 100 whole genome sequences of the strain available. She said it would take a few more weeks of scientific work to determine whether the variant would be considered a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern.”

“Everybody that’s out there needs to understand that the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see,” Van Kerkhove said.

The UK Health Security Agency reports the new variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong. Germany’s health ministry moved to declare South Africa a virus variant area.

The WHO convenes emergency talks 

The WHO convened an emergency meeting set for early Friday afternoon to discuss the new variant.

Scientists are concerned about the high number of mutations within the variant and worry it could be resistant to vaccines and more easily passed on to others.

The working group meeting Friday will determine whether to officially label the variant “of concern,” a distinction only four variants to date have received.

Countries move to close air traffic from southern Africa

Countries in Asia and Europe including Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and the UK quickly imposed restrictions Friday after the emergence of a potentially vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant was detected in South Africa.

The EU moved to halt air travel from the entire southern African region amid concerns over the newly detected South African variant, the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. 

She said the Commission will propose “to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region” due to the emergence of the new variant.

ar/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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