Belgium confirms case of new, heavily mutated Covid variant

Advice on how to protect yourself against the coronavirus can be seen on a poster standing in the market square in Brugge, Belgium. In the background, the town hall with the Belfry, an 80-metre-high tower, one of the city’s landmarks.

Bernd Thissen | picture alliance | Getty Images

Belgium has confirmed a case of the new, heavily mutated variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, according to one of the country’s leading virologists.

Marc Van Ranst, who works with the Rega Institute for Medical Research, said a sample was confirmed as the novel B.1.1.529 variant in a traveler who returned from Egypt on Nov. 11. The patient first showed symptoms on Nov. 22.

Belgium is home to the capital of the European Union in Brussels.

The variant was first detected in a small number of samples in South Africa, according to the World Health Organization. There were also reports on Friday morning that cases had been found in Israel and Hong Kong.

The B.1.1.529 variant contains 30 mutations to the spike protein that allows the virus to enter the body, scientist Tulio de Oliveira said Thursday during a briefing held by the South African Department of Health. The new strain has roughly 50 mutations in total, including 10 to the part of the virus that first comes in contact with cells.

Health officials caution that many of these mutations could lead to increased antibody resistance, limiting the effectiveness of Covid vaccines. The World Health Organization convened a meeting Friday to determine how Covid therapeutics and immunizations might be affected by the new variant.

The emerging variant arrives in Europe amid an already devastating Covid surge linked to the delta strain. Europe saw more than 2.4 million new Covid cases over the week ended Nov. 21, an increase of 11% from the previous seven days, according to the WHO’s most recent epidemiological update.

Europe represented 67% of all Covid cases reported globally during that span, the WHO measured.

The European Union’s executive branch recommended Friday that all 27 member states suspend travel from southern Africa. The U.K. has already halted flights from six countries in the region, with France and Italy imposing their own temporary travel bans on southern Africa as well.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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