JOHANNESBURG, 21 December 2020 – Scientists and public health officials in South Africa say they are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate a new variant of coronavirus.

The variant is surging in most parts of the country, scientists have said, expressing fears that this variant may be more deadly than the first.

Known as 501.V2, the new variant was identified earlier this month y a genomics team lead by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

Scientists say their discovery was prompted by the fact that they noticed a number of mutations during routine surveillance of the virus.

As of last week, scientists in South Africa said the new variant in the country appears to be unrelated to the one found in the United Kingdom.

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The two variants – if they are, indeed, unrelated – share one important mutation.

Scientists say both the UK and the South African variants attach to human cells, which would explain their faster transmission rate.

Researchers in the United Kingdom say the mutated virus there is 70 percent more transmissible.

Experts in South Africa say they are still in the process of gathering data on the variant there.

South Africa’s new variant was first found in the Eastern Cape Province. It has since spread to the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Scientists do not have enough data to say if the new variant is more deadly.

Virus mutations are common.

Germany and Switzerland are among some of the countries that last week banned flights from South Africa.

As many as 40 countries had banned travel to and from the United Kingdom by noon GMT on Monday.

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