THE Botswana Health and Wellness Department says scientists are investigating a new coronavirus mutation detected in four people in the country.
In a statement, the health ministry permananent secretary says the mutations have been noted as a new sub-variant of Omicron. The ministry says the four cases are currently being monitored to gather more information about the spread and severity of the variant.
The ministry says, together with help from international bodies, it is still studying the characteristics of this omicron sub-lineage, in order to gain more data about its behaviour.
So far, it is not known if the sub-lineage is more deadly and more transmissible than the known Omicron variant. Scientists are also investigating whether COVID-19 vaccines are effective against this sub-lineage.
The ministry stated that the four affected people are fully vaccinated and have been experiencing mild symptoms. The public is urged to vaccinate and take booster shots, if eligible.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness wishes to inform members of the public that our scientists have been investigating new corona virus mutations detected in Botswana. On further analysis and verification, these mutations which have been so far detected in four people in Botswana, have been noted as a new sub lineage of the Omicron variant. The preliminary finding of this new sub lineage in Botswana has been designated as Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. The four cases are currently being monitored to gather more information about the potential impact on disease spread and severity. The foursome comprise residents and non-residents aged between 30 and 50 years, two being non-residents who had a recent travel history. The quartet are fully vaccinated and have been experiencing only mild symptoms. The same new sub lineage has also been reported in three other countries.
The ministry, in collaboration with other stakeholders including regional and international bodies, is still studying the properties and characteristics of this Omicron sub lineage in order to gain more data and knowledge about its behaviour. So far, no conclusions have been made yet, in relation to whether or not, the sub lineage is more deadly and more transmissible, than the known Omicron variant. Similarly, investigations on whether COVID-19 vaccines are effective against this sub lineage are ongoing.
Although it is common for viruses to mutate as they spread from one person to another, some mutations become responsible for high infection rates and cause severe disease. This would be due to among others, changes in virus behaviour and characteristics. When this happens, the new variant could be determined as a variant of concern (VOC). These new specific changes are always subject to further investigations and verification with the world scientific community. The ministry awaits further guidance from World Health Organization (WHO) on how to manage its transmission. At the moment, the ministry calls upon members of the public, not to panic but to continue being vigilant. The public is further encouraged to vaccinate and take their booster shots, if eligible. This is important because in the event new variants of COVID-19 emerge and spark a new wave of infections (fifth wave), the impact may be more severe for the unvaccinated.
The ministry will keep the public informed about any new developments in this matter.
Dr Christopher Nyanga
For Permanent Secretary