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Five reasons people are worried about South Africa’s new variant of covid

What causes sudden fear

T-bill yields are down 3-6 basis points after the US holiday, oil is down $ 1.26, and stock futures are down.

Why? There is renewed interest in B.1.1.529, which is a new variant of covid identified in South Africa. It has also been identified in Botswana and Hong Kong. Here are a few reasons virologists are concerned about:

1) South African cases have increased

It looks like a small woodpecker but it was sharp. Cases increased 321% week over week.

2) Provincial data is much worse

This is a map of Gauteng, which is the northern province at the center of the South African epidemic. You can see a slight increase in positivity at the start of November that spreads and intensifies.

Five reasons people are worried about South Africa’s new variant of covid

3) The variant crushes the delta

Sequencing of the virus in Guateng shows that it is quickly taking over from delta. Note the blue ribbon on the far right of the graph.

Five reasons people are worried about South Africa’s new variant of covid

4) It’s probably already widespread

Other provinces are increasingly showing this variant taking over and 100% of Guateng’s most recent batch of 77 samples was this variant. The mutation also appears vaguely in PCR tests and these show an increase in other provinces. A case related to a trip to Hong Kong also calls for wide dissemination.

5) The variant has 32 mutations

Virologists who have carefully examined the variant are concerned about the combination of mutations. Other variants, we know that these mutations are often associated with:

  • higher transmissibility
  • immune breakout
  • resistance to neutralizing antibodies
  • increased infectivity

The big worry is the vaccine escape, but there is no news to that effect yet. In briefings in the coming days, how the variant infects and affects those vaccinated will be a key question. About 29% of South Africa is vaccinated.

The reason not to be too worried is that we have already taken this route. Many variations turned out to be less bad than feared, including Delta. But it’s definitely worth watching.

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