New COVID-19 Variant Detected in South
November 26, 2021
South African scientists are scrambling to
determine how quickly a newly discovered
variant of the coronavirus can spread and if
it is resistant to vaccines. The new strain
has led Britain to reimpose flight bans on
six southern African countries, which could
deal another heavy blow to their economies.
Coronavirus cases are once again on the rise
in South Africa.
Amid the spike, several mutations of a new
variant called the B 1.1.529 have been
detected in the country, Botswana and Hong
It has sparked concern it could compete with
the previously dominant delta variant and
trigger another wave of the pandemic.
Dr. Michelle Groome is with South Africa’s
National Institute for Communicable
“There's the potential that this could be
more transmissible and that this, there is
potential immune escape, but we don't know
yet,” said Groome. "We are busy conducting
some laboratory tests, obviously, we can
have a look at how, you know, this new
variant reacts both to, you know, serum from
people who have been infected previously, as
well as vaccinated, which will give us a
better idea of the potential immune escape.”
The uncertainty has prompted travel
Britain added six African countries to its
so-called red list today, requiring
quarantine for incoming travelers and
temporarily banning flights.
The European Union also is looking at
halting air travel from southern Africa.
The South African government has called the
decisions “rushed” and raised concerns about
the impact on business.
The CEO of South Africa’s inbound tourism
association, David Frost, says the effects
will be devastating on the sector.
"We got off the red list in in October and
it was sorely needed. We've been shut down
for over 18 months,” said Frost. "You know,
the industry really is on its knees. The
impact of this is absolutely dire to
livelihoods, to families.”
While social distancing and mask use can
help combat the virus, Dr. Groome also
questions the efficacy of travel bans.
"We haven't been able to contain the spread
initially of the of the original virus, and
all subsequent variants have spread
globally, you know,” said Groome. "I think
there's limited value in terms of these
Instead, she says vaccinating more of the
population would help prevent the most
severe cases and deaths.
Roughly 35 percent of the South Africa’s
adult population is vaccinated, a figure far
below targets of 70 percent.
Figures are even lower across much of the
Experts have warned vaccine inequality would
create a breeding ground for the virus to
Astrid Haas is an independent urban
economist in Kampala, Uganda.
"In Europe now and in North America, in
particular, they're talking about booster
shots and third vaccines, whereas we know
now from the WHO, that less than 10% of
African countries are going to even meet
their vaccine target for this year. …Just a
very sad manifestation of the global vaccine
inequity,” said Haas.
In the absence of vaccinations, lockdowns
may be on the horizon.
measures already have taken a harsh economic
toll across southern Africa.
Haas says the halt to retail and other
services has made it hard for many people to
“Particularly with respect to the urban poor
is that a lot of income is used to purchase
food, or a high proportion of income is used
to purchase food, and when they are not able
to make income, then that affects food
security as well,” said Haas.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is
convening the country’s coronavirus council
this weekend in response to the new variant.
The government says it will announce any new
measures in coming days.