Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the African Union's Centers for Disease Control (Photo: Reuters-Yonhap)
A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say may not be susceptible to current vaccines.
The country's health minister, Joe Phaahla, said Thursday they have seen a dramatic rise in new infections, with the variant rapidly spreading among young people.
Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.
Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance, who has tracked the spread of the delta variant in the country, said the "very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility."
Dr. John Nkengasong is the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We know that this variant has a lot more mutations. It has all the concerning mutations that we observed during the Delta, Beta and Alpha variants. In addition to that it has a whole series of other mutations, and some of those can be predicted, and the key word here is predicted, to be associated with increased cell binding and increased transmissibility."
In response to the concerning news, Britain has already banned all travel from South Africa and five other southern African nations.
The WHO's technical working group will meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.
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