Hong Kong has detected a newly identified COVID-19 variant --- B.1.1.529 --- which is causing an increase in new Covid-19 infections in South Africa, according to local media reports.
This new variant, with a large number of spike protein mutations, has led the UK to impose a travel ban from some African countries. It has also been declared a Variant under Investigation (VuI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
"These are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility. More investigation is required," UK Health Security Agency said in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a special meeting to discuss the new Covid variant.
"We don't know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's the technical lead on Covid-19, said in a briefing.
Reportedly, the new variant was found earlier in two men quarantined at the Regal Airport Hotel in Chek Lap Kok. The Hong Kong health authorities confirmed that the new variant was brought in by one of the men who had flown in from South Africa.
The first patient then allegedly passed on the virus to another man who was staying in a neighbouring room at the hotel, The Straits Times reported citing Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK.
The probe into the two cases showed that they had highly similar genetic sequences, adding that the viruses they carried belong to the B.1.1.529 variant, according to Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection (CHP).
Media reports say that scientific information on the public health significance of this lineage is lacking at the moment. Therefore, it is classified by the WHO as 'variants under monitoring'.
The first patient was found to have worn a reusable mask with an air valve, and further investigation found that the mask had contributed to the spread of the virus to the second man, RTHK reported.