Scientists alarmed over new ‘worst-ever’ COVID variant that could make vaccines 40% less effective

Scientists alarmed over new worst ever COVID variant that could make


Thousands of people are landing in the United States from South Africa every week, despite a new COVID-19 variant sparking such concern that Britain and Israel on Thursday effectively halted travel from the region.

The variant is predominately found in Botswana – from where there are no direct flights to the U.S. – and also in neighboring South Africa.

United Airlines currently fly direct from Johannesburg to New York City seven days a week, with the 16-hour flight leaving at 10pm and arriving at 7am in Newark.

United also fly direct to New York City from Cape Town three times a week, on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

United flies Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which can hold 290 people.

Delta fly direct from Johannesburg to Atlanta on Saturday, Monday, and Thursday.

They use Airbus A350-900, which can seat between 300 and 350 people.

On Thursday Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid sounded the alarm over what he termed the ‘worst-ever’ super-mutant COVID variant.

A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg, South Africa on October 21

A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg, South Africa on October 21

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He said it could make vaccines at least 40 per cent less effective, and as a result he said they had banned flights from South Africa and five other regional countries.

Experts explained earlier how the B.1.1.529 variant has more than 30 mutations – the most ever recorded in a variant and twice as many as Delta – that suggest it could be more jab-resistant and transmissible than any version before it.

The variant – which could be named ‘Nu’ by the World Health Organization in the coming days – has caused an ‘exponential’ rise in infections in South Africa and has already spread to three countries – including Hong Kong and Botswana, where it is believed to have emerged.

In response, Javid announced that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.

No cases have been detected in the UK so far but everyone who has returned from South Africa in the past 10 days will be contacted and asked to take a test.

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South African scientists, meanwhile, add that they are ‘concerned by the jump in evolution in this variant’.

Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

The variant has over 30 mutations – around twice as many as the Delta variant – which could potentially make it more transmissible and evade the protection given by prior infection or vaccination.

The British expert whose modeling helped instigate the first coronavirus lockdown said that the decision to impose travel restrictions was ‘prudent’.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the British government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: ‘The B.1.1.529 variant has an unprecedented number of mutations in the spike protein gene, the protein which is the target of most vaccines.

‘There is therefore a concern that this variant may have a greater potential to escape prior immunity than previous variants.

‘It is also concerning that this variant appears to be driving a rapid increase in case numbers in South Africa. The Government’s move to restrict travel with South Africa is therefore prudent.

‘However, we do not yet have reliable estimates of the extent to which B.1.1.529 might be either more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to be able to provide an evidence-based assessment of the risk it poses.’

Experts from the UKHSA have been advising ministers on the issue, with a number of scientists expressing serious concern over the variant due to the significant number of mutations in the spike protein.

One senior scientist said: ‘One of our major worries is this virus spike protein is so dramatically different to the virus spike that was in the original Wuhan strain, and therefore in our vaccines, that it has a great cause of concern.’

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are meeting with South African officials on Friday to assess the evolving situation in the country.

The variant could eventually be given the moniker ‘Nu’ – with the most concerning variants given named after the Greek alphabet. 

The variant is already in three countries, suggesting it is more widespread than the official tally.

Two cases have been detected in Hong Kong – both of whom had links to South Africa – three have been picked up in Botswana and the remainder are in South Africa.

But a lack of surveillance on continental Africa may be underestimating the true numbers there, scientists warned.



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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