South Africa detects new coronavirus variant

Health authorities in South Africa say they have detected a new coronavirus variant. There are concerns that current vaccines could be less effective against it.

The authorities said on Thursday that the new variant was detected in the province of Gauteng, where the capital Pretoria and the largest city of Johannesburg are located.

Officials said they have so far confirmed 77 cases of the new variant in the country, and the number of infections is rapidly increasing. They add that the new variant could be spreading outside Gauteng.

They said the new variant has been detected in Botswana, as well as in Hong Kong in a traveler from South Africa.

The World Health Organization's technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said not much is known about the new variant yet. She said researchers are studying what the mutations may mean for therapeutics and vaccines.

The WHO plans to discuss whether to designate the new variant as a variant of interest or a variant of concern.