Speaking to journalists, Phaahla said he believed that the new Covid-19 variant, B.1.1.529, might be linked to the recent surge in outbreak in Gauteng province which saw a daily infection rate of over 1,000 cases.
“You can be rest assured that as people move in the next coming weeks, this (variant) will be all over,” Phaahla warned.
According to the country’s renowned bioinformacian Tulio de Oliveira, the variant had also been identified in Botswana and Hong Kong involving a traveller from South Africa.
The variant, which was discovered through collaborative efforts with private laboratories and the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, was said to have a high number of mutations.
“What we see is this very unusual constellation of mutations, multiple mutations across the genome with more than 30 mutations, de Oliveira told journalists.
According to de Oliveira, the Delta variant, which was responsible for the deadly third wave, had only two mutations, while the Beta variant had three.
“This is concerning for predicted immune system evasion and transmissibility,” he said, adding that the new variant may already be present in most of South Africa’s nine provinces.
While the full significance was still uncertain, de Oliveira and his team were expected to meet World Health Organisation officials on Friday to come up with a Greek name for the variant.
“It’s very important to understand that even though the variant was detected here, (it) doesn’t mean that this variant is from South Africa,” he added.