State of Disaster

Stock image of a coronavirus cell – Photo: Pixabay

B.1.1.529: What’s good, bad, and ugly about this complicated new variant?

This isn’t what we wanted for Christmas – and now South Africa is set to grapple with a concerning new variant, termed as B.1.1.529.

State of Disaster

Stock image of a coronavirus cell – Photo: Pixabay

It’s not the news any of us wanted to hear. But unfortunately, we can’t stop viruses from doing what they’ve always done. The new variant found in South Africa, dubbed B.1.1.529 before it gets a more word-friendly title, has begun to spread across the country – and that could come with some fairly serious consequences.

Is this new variant more dangerous than Delta?

The timing of this particular discovery will do the health authorities no favours. Falling directly between the end of our Local Elections and the start of the festive season, B.1.1.529 has shown cruelty in its designated arrival date.

The new variant hasn’t come to play – and that’s putting it mildly. We’ve decided to break down the findings presented by South Africa’s most prominent epidemiologists on Thursday. And here’s hoping that you’re sitting comfortably…

B.1.1.529: The good, the bad, and the ugly about this new variant found in South Africa

The Good

Well, not a great deal, if we’re going to level with you. Not that there are many positives to any new variant being discovered anyway, but the pickings are particularly slim here. Alas, we’ll give it a go.

Yes, B.1.1.529 does have a lot of mutations – 32, to be exact. But some scientists believe that this composition can make the virus ‘unstable’, and although it could spread quickly at first, it may not remain stable enough to become ‘widespread’. It’s also believed having a vaccination ‘will reduce the risk’ of getting severely ill from this mutation.

The Bad

It’s not just that this new variant is super-mutated – it’s more down to HOW this thing has mutated. It carries several spike proteins that are commonly found in other dangerous strains, which have in turn sparked new waves in other parts of the world. The lineage of B.1.1.529 is undeniably troublesome.

You’ve also got the spread of this thing. It has been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong, and of course, right here in Mzansi. And wouldn’t you know it… we’re bang out of luck. Scientists addressing an NICD briefing on Thursday believe this variant is now ‘spreading rapidly’ in Gauteng, and will be present ‘in almost every province’ at this point.

The Ugly

The biggest problem here is that our epidemiological experts, who use much less alarmist language than certain media types, are already bracing for a fairly heavy impact. The official case numbers for the new variant jumped from 22 to 100 – during the hour in which the Health Department presented their findings.

Dr. Richard Lessel, of the NICD, says that the mutation profile of B.1.1.529 is predicted to carry ‘significant immune evasaion’, and it’s likely to be ‘more transmissible than Delta’ – which takes some going, by the way.

New variant confirmed: SA left to grapple with B.1.1.529

Dozens of new variants have been discovered around the world in the past 18 months, and very few of them do anything to trouble the scientific community. But with this strain, initially discovered in Botswana, the NICD and SA’s Health Department are on high alert. Given the data presented on Thursday, that’s quite understandable.

There are *some* saving graces, however. At this stage, it’s too early to say how bad the impact of the new variant will be. Things don’t look too clever at the minute, but they never do at this point. And, not for the first time during this pandemic, South Africa has become the world’s Petri dish – and the eyes of the world are now fixed on us.