The Department of Health (DoH) is monitoring developments with the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19 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, or Nu, but he said that initial data has shown a high number of mutations.
He noted that despite the high number of mutations of the new variant, it does not mean that it’s deadlier and more contagious.
“The presence of its certain mutations does not automatically mean that it will be deadlier, more contagious, and will reduce the efficacy of vaccines,” he said.
The infectious disease expert reminded the public that the spread of the new Covid-19 variant could still be prevented through the observance of the 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 the agency is waiting for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) statement on the new Covid-19 variant.
Ho said that the WHO has called for a special meeting with the 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 the strain’s classification.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, meanwhile, said vaccines can prevent the Nu variant.
Concepcion stressed that preventing a surge in Covid cases is key to keeping the economy open, a more proactive approach amid the identification of a new, highly mutated Covid 19 variant seen as the “most significant” so far.
“If we want to keep the economy open, we need to take action and vaccinate all our employees and family members and comply with health protocol and guidelines. The private sector has been proactive ever since with the calling of the lockdown and securing vaccines. Now we are working together to discuss how to sustain this momentum and prevent a surge again,” Concepcion stressed.
with RAFFY AYENG