The number of daily infections in Africa’s hardest-hit country has increased tenfold since the start of the month.
“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, expressing hope that the World Health Organization will give it a Greek name on Friday.
“It’s unfortunately causing a resurgence of infections,” he said.
The variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, he added.
The WHO said it is “closely monitoring” the reported variant and is expected to convene a technical meeting on Friday to determine if it should be designated a variant of “interest” or of “concern”.
“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study,” the WHO added