Following reports that British experts have discovered a new COVID-19 variant believed to have emerged in Botswana, the Ministry of Health and Wellness have confirmed that they are aware of an occurrence of a certain mutation of the SARS CoV-2 virus in Botswana.
The variant, which is believed to be the most mutated version of the virus yet, is said to be carrying an extremely high number of mutations which may drive further waves of the disease by evading the body’s defences. While Nyanga has assured that the ministry will communicate when relevant information has been collected, The Guardian newspaper in the UK has reported that the B.1.1.529 variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID-19.
It is said that mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen. Reports further show that the variant was first spotted in Botswana, where three cases have now been sequenced. Six more have been confirmed in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.
The government of Botswana has not expressed much worry yet but the variant has sparked serious concern among some researchers in the UK because a number of the mutations may help the virus evade immunity.
Furthermore according to The Guardian, Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, posted details of the new variant on a genome-sharing website, noting that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern”. Reports from scientists also reveal that the variant likely emerged in a lingering infection in an immune compromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS. The news of this variant comes at the wake of a fourth wave which is expected to hit South Africa and perhaps eventually countries like Botswana in December.