There are fears that the new Botswana COVID variant may survive the vaccines

Fears are growing about the new Botswana Covid-19 variant, which experts believe is the most mutated version of the virus ever detected.

The B.1.1529 strain, which may soon be named nu, has 32 mutations, many of which are highly transmissible and vaccine resistant.

So far, only 10 cases of the strain have been reported worldwide, but have been identified in three countries.

The first infections were seen in Botswana, followed by six in South Africa and one in Hong Kong and a traveler returning from South Africa.

Scientists say it has more changes in its spike protein than any other, and it probably emerged from a person who hasn’t been diagnosed with AIDS.

Professor François Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, said: “B.1.1529 is a new lineage found in Botswana with an unusual constellation of mutations.

“Given the large number of mutations this apparently accumulated in a single blast, it likely developed during chronic infection of an immunocompromised individual, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.”

It is difficult to predict the version at this stage, he added.

They suggested that this new variant would not necessarily be recognized by the immune systems of people infected with the alpha or delta variants.

Spike mutations typically allow the virus to adapt to resist natural and vaccine immunity and become more severe and better.

Dr Tom Peacock of Imperial College London warned that the version “must be monitored very, very much because of that terrible spike profile”.

Dominant mutations in the Botswana variant include E484A, K417N and N440K, which can escape antibodies.

The N501Y mutation is also a concern and accelerates the spread of the virus.

Prof Balloux said: “So far, four strains have been sequenced in one region of sub-Saharan with appropriate surveillance. It may be present in other parts of Africa.

“For the time being, this will need to be closely monitored and analyzed, but there is no reason to be overly concerned, unless the frequency starts to increase in the near future.”

According to the World Health Organisation, Botswana recorded 207 new Covid infections and zero deaths in the last seven-day period till 22 November.

© Evening Standard

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