What we know about the new virus variant that’s rocking markets

Researchers are still trying to determine whether it is more transmissible or more lethal than previous ones.
Image: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

A new variant of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 — called B.1.1.529 — has been identified in South Africa, with officials there saying it’s of concern. Fears a new strain could fuel outbreaks in many countries, straining health systems, potentially evading vaccines and complicating efforts to reopen economies and borders, sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets Friday.

Here’s what we know so far:

1. What’s different about this variant? 

Scientists say B.1.1.529 carries a high number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a key role in the virus’ entry into cells in the body. It’s also what is targeted by vaccines. Researchers are still trying to determine whether it is more transmissible or more lethal than previous ones.

2. Where did it come from?

There’s only speculation so far. One scientist at the UCL Genetics Institute in London said it likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient. South Africa has 8.2 million people infected with HIV, the most in the world. The beta variant, a mutation identified last year in South Africa, also may have come from an HIV-infected person.

3. How widespread is it?

As of Thursday there were almost 100 cases detected in South Africa, where it’s become the dominant strain among new infections. Early PCR test results showed that 90% of 1 100 new cases reported Wednesday in the South African province that includes Johannesburg were caused by the new variant, according to Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities. In neighboring Botswana, officials recorded four cases on Monday in people who were fully vaccinated. In Hong Kong, a traveler from South Africa was found to have the variant, and another case was identified in a person quarantined in a hotel room across the hall.

Tulio de Oliveira@Tuliodna
This new variant, B.1.1.529 seems to spread very quick! In less than 2 weeks now dominates all infections following a devastating Delta wave in South Africa (Blue new variant, now at 75% of last genomes and soon to reach 100%)

Sent via Twitter Web App.

4. What’s the reaction been?

News of the new variant roiled markets Friday, with travel-related stocks in Asia among the biggest decliners as investors anticipated the negative impact it will have on travel. The yen, typically seen as a safe haven asset, rose 0.6% against the dollar, while the South African rand slid to a one-year low. The UK issued a temporary ban on flights from six African countries, and other countries followed suit, with Singapore restricting entry for people who have been in South Africa and nearby nations within the last 14 days. Australia said it wouldn’t rule out tightening border rules for travelers from southern Africa if the situation escalates, while India stepped up screening of incoming travelers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.

5. How worrisome is this?

It’s too early to say. The World Health Organization said there are fewer than 100 whole genomic sequences of the new variant available, which could add to the time it takes to study it as well as how well current vaccines work against it. Viruses mutate all the time, with the changes sometimes making the virus weaker or sometimes making it more adept at evading antibodies and infecting humans.

6. What should we look out for next?  

The WHO called a meeting on Friday to discuss B.1.1.529 and decide if it will be officially designated a variant of interest or concern. If it does, it will receive a Greek letter name under the WHO naming scheme, likely the letter “nu.” Governments will likely also be taking action on border and travel controls in response to news of the variant.

World Health Organization (WHO)


Dr @mvankerkhove gives an update on #COVID19 virus variant B.1.1.529, during the #AskWHO session on 25 November 2021.

Sent via Twitter Web App.

© 2021 Bloomberg


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And now we are on the Red List from the UK … so there goes the Christmas/New Year tourist season. Goodbye billions of Rands.

But hey! The anti-vax brigade with their loonie tunes attitudes have yet another reason to wake up and smell the coffee … if they still have their sense of smell.

Vaccinated people continuing with their lives as if everything is now back to normal are a greater risk and cause of the virus spreading – no social distancing, no masks, attending social gatherings because “It’s OK now, we’re vaccinated”

The generalisation assumes that every vaccinated person does this. Or is it only your circle? The science (boring I know) stresses that you are NOT immune to the virus but less likely to die. This message is constantly being spread in media but as I’ve realised over the decades of dealing with my fellow species, being bipedal does not mean we automatically acquire wisdom.

Not being vaccinated on the other hand, facilitates the development of new strains. “The more people who are unvaccinated and infected, the more chances there are for mutations to occur. Limiting the spread of the virus through maintaining COVID-19 safeguards (mask wearing, physical distancing, practicing hand hygiene and getting vaccinated) gives the virus fewer chances to change. It also reduces the spread of more infectious variants, if they do occur.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/a-new-strain-of-coronavirus-what-you-should-know

Tedious science …. sigh .., and did you wonder what happened to the seasonal ‘flu?

“Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza cases reported to the World Health Organization from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have dropped to minute levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from spreading—notably mask wearing and social distancing—also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and they are less effective at jumping from person to person.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flu-has-disappeared-worldwide-during-the-covid-pandemic1/

The generalisation to which you refer is your interpretation of what I said- I specifically referred to those who do NOT maintain the preventative protocols and not to ALL those who are vaccinated.
I agree with the rest of your comment , I am trained in the sciences so it is not boring (another incorrect assumption) – prevention is better than cure. I am isolating & have no physical contact outside of the home (yes, unbelievable but it is true) – that is my preventative measure and I don’t see how it impacts on you.

The New Variant is always discovered in South Africa by a “South African” scientist, @Tuliodna. Then South Africa either goes into lockdown, or other countries place SA on the Red List. Maybe Tulio should go back to where he came from and discover new variants in his country.

I have not heard of any variant discovered in the UK, USA, or other western countries. It’s always the “New South African” AND the most dangerous variant.

End of comments.



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