A new variant of the coronavirusResearchers in South Africa discovered the strain, which is suspected to be highly mutational. The discovery has caused concern among scientists and may have already sparked a rise in Johannesburg-area cases.

This variant is known as the “B1.1.529” variant. It is connected to 22 positive South African cases so far as well as Botswana and Hong Kong cases among tourists from that country.

“You can be rest assured that as people move in the next coming weeks, this [variant] will be all over,” Dr. Joe Phaahla, South Africa’s health minister, saidat a briefing for journalists on Thursday. “Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise [in cases].”

There are many variants and mutations of COVID-19 that have raised concern, such as the highly transmissible delta virus. Officials in health are worried that new coronavirus strains could escape the vaccines’ effectiveness. This is a major concern for officials as they fear the virus will cause severe illness or death.

Tulio de Oliveira, a professor at South Africa’s Network for Genomic Surveillance, said the new variant announced Thursday has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” including more than 30 mutations in its spike proteins, which is responsible for the virus’s transmissibility.

“We can see that the variant is potentially spreading very fast,” de Oliveira said at the briefing, perThe AP. “We do expect to start seeing pressure in the healthcare system in the next few days and weeks.”

Although South Africa’s cases have been low over the past months, they are now facing a rapid increase in infections. There were more than 1,200 confirmed cases on Wednesday. The number rose to close to 2,500 Thursday.

WHO’s technical working group will meet about the new variant on Friday to assess it. The British government took immediate action to stop its spread amid serious concerns. banning flights from South AfricaFrom Friday noon, five additional African countries will be added. All those who are new to the country will need to pass a test.

Phaahla said the latest surge should encourage South Africans to renew their focus on vaccination to prevent COVID-19 infection, calling jabs a “critical tool” to end the pandemic.

“The fact of the matter is that we also have an additional tool, which is vaccination, which will help us to avert serious illness and ending up in hospitals, ICU and succumbing to this virus,” Phaahla said.

About 41% of South AfricansHave been fully vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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