Photo Credit: NIAID-RML / flickr
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab.

Israel’s Coronavirus Commissioner Professor Nachman Ash announced Sunday at a news conference that a new “Uganda variant” has been identified in the Jewish State.

Ash said officials are “still not sure of its clinical impact.”

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Seven people in Israel have so far been found to be infected with the California variant, he said.

However, Ash added, the highly contagious UK variant has been responsible for some 90 percent of the new cases in Israel.

Only one percent of those who have recently become infected with COVID-19 have been identified with the South African variant, he said.

The Uganda variant, called A.23.1, is “of potential biological concern,” according to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Flu Data (GISAID).

It is now the most common coronavirus in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala, according to a new study published Thursday on the online medRxiv preprint health sciences server, and has spread to 12 other countries.

The researchers believe the virus was introduced into the country from truck drivers coming from ports of entry at the Ugandan borders.

From June to October 2020, lineage A viruses accounted for only 25 percent of viruses in the Kampala region. By December 2020, however, 49 of the 50 sequenced samples from the Kampala region were of the new A.23.1 lineage, the researchers said.

Ugandan, South African Mutations Have Common Mutation
Scientists say the Uganda variant has genetic changes in the spike protein used by the virus to infect human cells.

The researchers believe that one of the mutations of the variant, P681R could signify it behaves in a manner similar to the fast-spreading UK variant, B.1.1.7, which has a closely associated mutation – P681H — in its spike protein.

Another mutation found in the Uganda variant that raises the risk of rapid contagion is that found in the South African variant: the E484K mutation – which scientists believe helps the mutation dodge antibodies.

For this reason, the UK’s Public Health England is formally investigating the A.23.1 variant.

Uganda Variant Spreading to Other Countries
“At present, viruses from A.23 and A.23.1 are now found in 12 countries outside Uganda, from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania,” the researchers wrote.

“The A.23 variant was first observed in Uganda in August 2020 and then in a country in North America in October and in country in Africa in December. The variant A.23.1 was first seen in December in 2020… Outside of Uganda, A.23.1 was found in another country in Africa (Africa 3) from the end of November in 9 different countries across Europe (6 countries), Asia (2 countries) and Oceania (1 country).

“Of note, the international flights out of Uganda were restarted on 1 October 2020 with frequent flights to Europe and US overlaying via a country in Africa or Asia. Phylogenetic analysis supports the close evolution of A.23 to A.23.1.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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