The Presidential COVID-19 Task Force has revealed that four cases of a new COVID-19 variant now known as B.1.1.529 were reported and recorded on Monday November 22, 2021. This comes after the British media revealed that experts had discovered a new COVID-19 variant believed to have emerged in Botswana.
According to a statement from the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force coordinator, Dr Kereng Masupu, the cases are said to have been detected among travellers who tested SARS-COV-2 positive on routine pre travel testing.
“The preliminary report revealed that all the four had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. As part of the continuing investigations into the virus to establish and contain its local transmissions, contact tracing has revealed close contacts who are currently awaiting their results and the public will be informed regarding the outcome of the exercise,” further read a statement from Masupu.
Masupu added that the initial investigations on the virus have established that the new variant has a high number of mutations as compared to the locally predominant Delta variant. “What this means is still unclear and under investigation. New variants have the potential to affect severity of the disease, how effective tests pick up the disease as well as potentially vaccine efficacy. At this moment, real world impact of the variant has not been established. Non-pharmaceutical interventions (wearing of masks, social distancing, and avoiding unnecessary travels etc) remain effective and therefore the public is advised to continue observing these,” he highlighted.
While reports from some British media publications indicate that the variant likely emerged in a lingering infection in an immune compromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS, Masupu blatantly dismissed the assertions.
“Contrary to these reports, in which one newspaper claims that one case was from an HIV+ participant is totally false as no HIV status of the clients was associated with these results. These media reports are unfortunate and factually flawed and should be viewed as such. The variant is still being studied and investigated and therefore, it would be premature to conclusively make these types of assertions at this time,” he further highlighted.
Earlier today the Ministry of Health and Wellness spokesperson Christopher Nyanga revealed that even though they are aware of the new B.1.1.529 variant, investigations were ongoing to determine the specific type of mutation and the extent of spread or transmission locally. In an interview with Mmegi Online, a Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) researcher said unfortunately, BITRI has not been conducting whole genome sequencing of the COVID-19 virus for the past two months. “We cannot comment on the newly found variant,” the researcher revealed.
While the news of the new variant has already started to cause uncertainty and panic among some members of the public, the government has urged the public to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19 as advised from time to time.