Durban - The National Institute for Communicable Diseases believes that the current programme of vaccines in South Africa still offer high levels of protection against the newly identified Covid-19 variant.
The NICD said work is already under way to look at the immune escape potential of B.1.1.529 in the laboratory setting.
"We are also establishing a real-time system to monitor hospitalisation and outcome associated with B.1.1.529. Based on our understanding of the mutations in this lineage, partial immune escape is likely, but it is likely that vaccines will still offer high levels of protection against hospitalisation and death," the NICD said.
Experts expect new variants to continue to emerge wherever the virus is spreading.
"Vaccination remains critical to protect those in our communities at high risk of hospitalisation and death, to reduce strain on the health system, and to help slow transmission.
“This must be in conjunction with all the other public health and social measures, so we advise the public to remain vigilant and continue to follow Covid-19 protocols. These non-pharmaceutical interventions are still proven to prevent the spread of all Sars-CoV-2 viruses," the NICD said.
This week, medical experts detected a group of related SARS-CoV-2 viruses in South Africa named the B.1.1.529 lineage. B.1.1.529 has been detected in Gauteng at relatively high frequency, with >70% of genomes sequenced from specimens collected between 14-23 November 2021 belonging to this lineage.
This lineage possesses a high number of mutations previously seen in other Sars-CoV-2 variants of interest or variants of concern but also other mutations which are novel.
The NICD said currently, no unusual symptoms have been reported following infection with the B.1.1.529 variant, and as with other variants, some individuals are asymptomatic.
The Institute said the B.1.1.529 lineage has a deletion within the S gene that allowed for rapid identification of this variant in South Africa and will enable continued monitoring of this lineage irrespective of available sequence data.
However, most other targets (including the N and RdRp genes) remain unaffected from specimens tested in over 100 specimens from testing laboratories in Gauteng, so it is unlikely that overall PCR test sensitivity is affected.
These PCR tests typically detect at least two different Sars-CoV-2 targets, which serves as a backup in the case of a mutation arising in one.
Analysis of the mutations in the nucleocapsid (N gene) of B.1.1.529 viruses suggests that rapid antigen tests should be unaffected. However, verification of this is under way.
Currently, SA has a total of 2 952 500 with 2 465 new infections recorded on Thursday.