A Heavily Mutated New COVID Variant Was Just Discovered & Countries Are Restricting Travel
Borders are tightening up after a handful of cases were detected.
International borders are slamming shut against a newly-discovered variant of the coronavirus, which South African officials say has several "very unusual" mutations.
It's so new that the World Health Organization only just gave it the designations B.1.1.529 on Wednesday and Omicron on Friday. That's when a handful of cases were first spotted in South Africa and Botswana, but it was already reported in Europe on Friday.
The variant isn't widespread yet and the WHO said it's seen fewer than 100 samples so far. The WHO also says it's too early to say exactly how dangerous it is.
Still, the early reports were enough to scare the U.K. into action. It quickly added South Africa and five neighbouring countries to its restricted travel list on Friday, and several other nations have also signalled plans to tighten up against visitors from that area, the Associated Press reports.
"Early indications show this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it," Sajid Javid, the U.K.'s health secretary, told lawmakers on Thursday.
"More data is needed but we're taking precautions now," he added on Twitter.
The European Commission also called for EU member nations to restrict travel from countries with confirmed cases of the variant, BBC News reports.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, one of South Africa's top infectious disease experts, said at a briefing that this is a heavily mutated variant with more than 30 changes to its spike protein. That's the part that of the virus that infects people's cells, and the part that vaccines are designed to fight off.
"It has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations than we expected," he said, according to the New York Times.
De Oliveira said on Twitter that the variant "seems to spread very quick" in one province in South Africa.
The WHO scheduled a special meeting to discuss the variant on Friday.
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