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New variant spreads to another country

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The new alarming Covid variant has been found in another country, as authorities scramble to contain the highly-mutated strain.

Israel has recorded its first confirmed case of the new Covid variant, B.1.1.529, after a traveller entered the country via a flight from Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa.

This is the third case of the new highly mutated strain that’s been recorded outside of Africa, after two cases were detected in Hong Kong.

The transmission was confirmed by Israel’s Ministry of Health which is currently investigating the patient’s contacts. Authorities also fear two more returnees from Malawi may have contracted the variant, however the results are pending genetic sequencing.

Currently, all three travellers are in isolation.

“In all three cases, they are vaccinated and their immunisation details are currently being verified,” read statement from the Ministry.

On Thursday, the Israeli government announced it was banning travel between Israel and several regions in southern Africa. South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini have also been added to the country’s list of “red” or riskiest countries to travel to. Israelis returning from the listed countries would also need to spend seven to 14 days in hotel quarantine.

On Thursday, a case of the B.1.1.529 strain was found in Hong Kong in a traveller undertaking hotel quarantine. The traveller returned the positive result on the fourth day of quarantine after two tests.

Reports suggest they were infected by a guest from across the hallway who had tested positive on their eighth day of quarantine after four PCR tests. Both cases had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Since its discovery, the new variant is worrying scientists with fears the highly-mutated strain could be more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines. This is because the variant has over 50 mutations, with 32 of those located in the spike region, which could change how the virus attaches to human cells. This is also the area that vaccines focus on.

However, speaking to media via a virtual press briefing, the World Health Organisation’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove said it could “take a few weeks” before these fears are confirmed.

“The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” she said.

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines.”

Upon the discovery of the new strain, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid placed six African nations (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini) on its Red List, barring travel to and from the countries unless special permissions are granted.

Despite this the Australian government is yet to act.

Speaking to press on Friday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he believed our vaccine coverage would protect us against the B.1.1.529 strain.

“It‘s highly unlikely to affect the efficacies of the vaccine,” he said.

“This is a very different situation to the Delta emergence and the high case numbers we saw in India. We are very highly vaccinated.

“There is no basis for change.”

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