New COVID-19 variant found in travelers from Tanzania

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JOHANNESBURG

A new COVID-19 variant with the most divergent mutations has been found in travelers from Tanzania, according to a scientific research institute based in South Africa.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of Krisp, a research and innovation sequencing platform, said the variant had been found in travelers arriving in Angola from Tanzania.

“Whilst we have only detected three cases with this new VOI, this warrants urgent investigation as the source country, Tanzania, has a largely undocumented epidemic and few public health measures in place to prevent spread within and out of the country,’’ Oliveira wrote on Twitter.

He said the new variant is the most diverse a lineage sequencers ever described. “We decided to report this as a new VOI given the constellation of mutations with known or suspected biological significance, specifically resistance to neutralizing antibodies and potentially increased transmissibility,’’ he said.

Tanzania, an East African nation of almost 60 million people, stopped releasing COVID-19 results almost a year ago, with 509 cases reported and 21 deaths. The country’s late President John Magufuli who succumbed to a heart condition over a week ago had declared his nation free of the pandemic.

Krisp, which carries out genetic testing for several African countries, last year, discovered the South African variant, also known as 501Y.V2.

Krisp found that the 501Y.V2 variant had a number of mutations on its spike protein, which increases the efficacy of the virus to infect humans and potentially poses problems of vaccine escape.

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