Updates from Covid LIVE as UK records over 50,000 daily cases for first time in nearly five weeks
New ‘super variant’ of Covid found in three countries
Scientists investigating a new, highly evolved variant of Covid have found that it has twice as many mutations as the Delta variant – which could make it even more dangerous.
The structure of the variant could mean that it avoids antibodies from previous infections and vaccines.
The strain, labeled B.1.1.529, has been detected in three countries around the world.
Only 10 cases of the virus were found; three cases in Botswana, six in South Africa and one in Hong Kong.
But scientists fear that it may no longer be widespread.
The variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein – the part of Covid that forms the basis of vaccines and which the virus uses to attach to our cells.
Delta, the variant causing the outbreak in UK cases, has half the number of mutations.
The Hong Kong case involved someone who had traveled from Africa – raising concerns that it was already spreading through international travel.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College who tweeted about the discovery, described the combination of variant mutations as “horrible.”
Describing the mutation profile of the new strain as “really horrible”, he added that it had the potential to be “worse than almost everything else,” including the now dominant Delta strain.
He wrote: “The export to Asia implies that it might be more widespread than the footage alone would suggest.
“Additionally, the extremely long branch lengths and the incredibly high number of tip mutations suggest that this may be a real concern (predicted escape of most known monoclonal antibodies).
“It is worth pointing out that this is currently a very low number in a region of Africa that is quite well sampled, but it should be monitored due to this horrible peak profile (one would have to assume that it would be antigenically worse than almost anything else by the way).
The first cases were collected in Botswana on November 11.
The Hong Kong case was a 36-year-old man who visited South Africa on October 23 and returned on November 11.
He tested negative on his return to Hong Kong, but then tested positive on November 13 while in quarantine at a hotel.
In South Africa, Covid cases rose from 312 on Monday to more than 860 on Tuesday, but scientists believe it is too early to say if there is a link to the new “super variant”.
New variants of the coronavirus are being identified all the time and often do not spread beyond a handful of cases.
There are currently no cases of the B.1.1.529 variant in the UK, but officials and scientists from the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) have said they are monitoring and investigating the variant.