New Variant of Covid-19 – B.1.1.529

Scientists are warning that a new variant of the Covid-19 virus has started to spread very fast in South Africa. The new variant, codenamed B.1.1.529, seems to be much better at spreading that even the Delta and Delta Plus variants we have in the UK now. This means that, when the new variant reaches the UK, there is a risk that it will replace Delta and Delta Plus as the variant which most people catch. Obviously, if the new variant is also more dangerous to people’s health than Delta and Delta Plus, this would be very concerning.

However, not enough is yet known about the B.1.1.529 variant for scientists to be sure how it will affect people. It is certain that it is more successful at spreading than Delta, because it is quickly replacing Delta as the main variant in parts of South Africa. But it isn’t yet known how or why the variant is more successful. It could be more easily spread in the air, or better at getting into your body, or better at avoiding your immune system, or better at evading vaccination protection, or a combination of all four. Scientists in South Africa and in other countries are urgently studying these issues now.

The reason scientists are particularly worried about this B.1.1.529 is that its genetic code has a lot of mutations which, in other variants, have made those variants more infectious and more able to avoid vaccine protection and cause serious illness. So, there is a risk (as yet not proven) that B.1.1.529 could be the most infectious and deadly Covid-19 variant yet.

Independent SAGE, a group of non-Government scientists and doctors, have called for an immediate travel ban on people coming to the UK from South Africa and neighbouring countries to try to slow the arrival of this new variant in the UK. They’ve also called on the UK Government to urgently start studying the new variant. As yet, however, the Government has taken no action.

Remember, it is early days and the B.1.1.529 variant may not prove to be a bigger risk than Delta and Delta Plus. We will continue to keep you up-to-date as soon as there is any more reliable new information.