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VP Chiwenga Says Zimbabweans Should Not Panic Over New COVID-19 Variant Detected in South Africa, Botswana

People shop in a mall, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Nov. 26, 2021. Advisers to the World Health Organization are holding a special session Friday to flesh out information about a worrying new variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga says Zimbabweans should not panic following the outbreak of a new COVID-19 variant in neighboring South Africa and Botswana, which health experts have described as the worst the world has recorded since 2019.

Chiwenga told journalists in Harare that the country has activated health emergency systems to respond to the B.1.1.529 variant.

He said, “With regard to the recent new COVID-19 variant being reported in the media, the country should not panic because we are very prepared. The ramping up of our vaccination program in the past month has seen a marked increase in the vaccination uptake. We remain focused on this very critical initiative that is designed to protect the nation from the negative impact of any new virus.”

Britain has already temporarily suspended flights from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana and Namibia fearing an outbreak of the latest COVID-19 variant.

According to the Associated Press, South African scientists have identified a new version of the coronavirus this week that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It's unclear from where the new variant actually arose, but it was first detected by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

Health minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential rise” of cases in the last few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant, named B.1.1.529 is actually responsible.

From just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa saw the number of new daily cases rocket to more than 1,200 on Wednesday and to 2,465 a day later. Struggling to explain the sudden rise in cases, scientists studied virus samples from the outbreak and discovered the new variant.

South African experts said there are no indications to date that the variant causes more severe or unusual disease and noted that as with other variants, some infected people don't have any symptoms.

It appears to have a high number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people. VOA/AP