Cape Town - South Africa has identified a mutation of the Covid-19 subvariant called XBB.1.5 which has caused its first case of a Covid-19 infection, leading the country’s scientists to urge citizens to get vaccinated and get booster shots.
Described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the most transmissible subvariant” found so far in the pandemic, the mutation was first detected by scientists at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town over the weekend.
“People should get their shots. The virus is still around and we should be protected, especially those who are vulnerable, the old and those with underlying health conditions,” virologist Barry Schoub said.
Another virologist, Tulio de Oliveira, head of a gene-sequencing institute at Stellenbosch University, said they were alert but not concerned about the XBB.1.5 mutation.
“You must understand it is not a new variant, as some people are saying. It is part of the Omicron family. It is a mutation,” the virologist said.
“We do not expect serious repercussions in South Africa. This is due to the high percentage of our population who are immunised,” he said.
“We are talking about more than 95% of South Africans, whether through vaccinations or previous infections. It is likely our wall of immunisation is strong enough to protect us,” De Oliveira said.
No spike in cases, hospitalisations or deaths has been seen in South Africa so far, De Oliveira said.
The government’s coronavirus portal recommends that all essential workers, people over 50 and people with compromised immune systems get booster shots as an additional layer of protection against possible future variants, he added.
The mutation is yet to be identified in China, which is undergoing a surge in infections after relaxing strict controls that limited the effect of previous waves of Covid-19 in the country.