Scientists in South Africa said on Thursday that they had discovered a new variant of Covid19 with multiple mutations and blamed them for an increase in the number of infections.
“Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira told 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’s, unfortunately, causing a resurgence of infections,” 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, making it “a major threat”.
Daily infections shot to more than 1,200 on Wednesday, up from around 100 earlier this month.
Before the detection of the new variant, authorities had predicted a fourth wave to hit South Africa starting around the middle of December, buoyed by travel ahead of the festive season.