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Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation

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New COVID-19 variant of concern identified

November 26th, 2021

The discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant by South African health authorities has sparked reaction across the world, with a number of countries banning travellers from several southern African countries.

Coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, which has been named Omicron, has been designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

Omicron appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion. Besides South Africa, the newly identified variant has been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Belgium.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology at Warwick Medical School in the UK says the Omicron variant is the most heavily mutated version of the virus seen to date. The variant has about 50 mutations overall and South African genomic scientists revealed more than 30 of the mutations were found in the spike protein – the structure the virus uses to get into the cells they attack.

In response to the emergence of the new variant, the United States has restricted travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

UK officials have also announced that South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be added to their travel “red list”.

European Union states have agreed to introduce temporary restrictions on all travel into the EU from southern Africa and Canada, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Israel, Dubai and Jordan have also announced new restrictions on travellers coming from the region.

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