Scientists have warned of a new Covid-19 variant with “extremely high number” of mutations, which is believed to be the most evolved strain of the virus and could escape existing vaccines.
The B.1.1.529 variant is an offshoot of an older variant called B.1.1 and it has 32 spike mutations in the spike protein and was being found is Botswana, where it is believed to have first emerged, as well as in South Africa and Hong Kong.
According to The Guardian, there were only 10 cases in 3 countries have been confirmed by genomic sequencing, but experts believed that it could be more widespread.
Some researches are also concerned that the number of mutations may help the virus evade immunity.
The single case identified in Hong Kong came from a person who had recently travelled from South Africa, sparking fears that more infections could have spread through international travel.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College who tweeted about the finding, described the variant’s combination of mutations, saying that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern”.
He added that the highly mutated variant is “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile”, but added that it may turn out to be an “odd cluster” that is not very transmissible. “I hope that’s the case,” he wrote.
He added that this new strain’s mutation is potential to be “worse than nearly anything else about”, including the now-dominant Delta strain, which has 16 spike mutations.
“Export to Asia implies this might be more widespread than sequences alone would imply. Also the extremely long branch length and incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern (predicted escape from most known monoclonal antibodies).” another expert commented on the matter.
So far, there were 3 cases been detected in Botswana and 6 in South Africa. The first case were collected in Botswana on 11 November.
On the other hand, the case in Hong Kong involves a 36 year-old man who travelled to South Africa on 23 October and returned on 11 November.
He tested negative on his return to Hong Kong but went on to test positive on 13 November while undergoing quarantine at a hotel.