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South Africa detects new COVID-19 variant of ‘serious concern’

Strain, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, ‘has a very high number of mutations’ and has caused ‘exponential’ growth in cases

Illustrative: Paramedic Clive Maleso stands next to a Saaberie Chishty ambulance before transferring a COVID-19 patient from his home to the hospital in Lenasia, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
Illustrative: Paramedic Clive Maleso stands next to a Saaberie Chishty ambulance before transferring a COVID-19 patient from his home to the hospital in Lenasia, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Scientists in South Africa said Thursday they had detected a new COVID-19 variant with multiple mutations, blaming it for a surge in infection numbers.

“Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira said at a hastily called news conference.

The variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, “has a very high number of mutations,” he said.

It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travelers from South Africa, he said.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases.

Daily infections shot to more than 1,200 cases on Wednesday, from around 100 earlier this month.

South Africa last year detected the Beta variant of the virus although until now infection numbers have been driven by the Delta variant, which was originally detected in India.

South Africa has the highest pandemic numbers in Africa, notching up around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal.

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