A new Covid-19 variant has been detected in South Africa.
According to Reuters scientists have detected the variant – called B.1.1.529 – in small numbers and are working to understand its potential implications.
Scientists say the variant has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
Early signs from diagnostic laboratories suggest the variant has rapidly increased in the most populated province of Gauteng and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces.
The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case a traveller from South Africa.
South Africa has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organization working group on virus evolution on Friday to discuss the new variant.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said it was too early to say whether the government would impose tougher restrictions in response to the variant.