The Department of Health (DoH) is currently monitoring developments in the new variant of Covid-19 detected in South Africa, a member of its Technical Advisory Group said Friday.
“We are monitoring the newly-detected variant in South Africa. Although it has not taken over the Delta variant yet, it is still a cause for concern,” Dr. Edsel Salvana said in the Laging Handa public media briefing.
Salvana said there is limited information about the new variant which goes by the scientific label B.1.1.529, however, he said that initial data has shown a high number of mutations.
He noted that despite the high number of mutations the new variant has, it does not mean that it will be deadlier and more contagious.
“While the presence of its certain mutations does not automatically mean that it will be deadlier, more contagious, and reduced the efficacy of vaccines,” Salavana said.
The infectious disease expert reminded the public that the spread of the new Covid-19 variant could still be prevented by following minimum public health standards.
“One thing is for sure though. No matter what variant that is, wearing masks and observing minimum public health standards will prevent its spread. Our vaccines also will most likely continue to protect against severe disease,” he added.
In a separate interview, DoH director Dr. Beverly Ho said that the agency is waiting for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) statement about the new Covid-19 variant.
Ho said that the WHO called for a special meeting with different countries to discuss the new variant and whether to classify it as a variant of interest or concern.
Based on the initial findings of South Africa’s Department of Health, the B.1.1.529 has a high number of mutations, with more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the structure of the virus that binds to cells.
The number of mutations found in the new variant is significantly higher than the highly contagious Delta variant, which is currently the most dominant strain in the world.
Several countries such as the United Kingdom and Singapore have already banned travelers from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini and Zimbabwe to curb the transmission of the new variant.
As of press time, the WHO has yet to issue a decision on what will be the classification of the new variant.