The Guardian

Warning on new highly mutated variant of Covid

- Ian Sample Science editor

Scientists have warned that a new Covid variant which carries an “extremely high number” of mutations may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s immune defences.

The cases confirmed by genomic sequencing are very small in number, with only 10 recorded in three countries, but the variant has sparked serious concern because a number of the mutations could help the virus evade immunity.

The B.1.1.529 variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against the coronaviru­s. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.

The variant was first spotted in Botswana, where three cases have now been sequenced. Six more have been confirmed in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.

Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, posted details of the new variant online, noting that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern”.

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