There are fears that announcement of the new coronavirus variant could trigger a global alarm as countries may start to suspend air travel to Botswana and other southern African nations.
Last year a number of developed countries, among them the United States and the United Kingdom rushed to suspend air travel from Botswana as they pulled the trigger on Botswana and other countries citing the new variant of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
Developed countries took a decision to suspend flights from and to Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
In a statement, Ministry of Health and Wellness spokesperson Dr. Christopher Nyanga said that their 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,” said Nyanga.
He said the preliminary finding of this new sub lineage in Botswana “has been designated as Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. hH,” adding that 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,” said Nyanga.
He said the quartet are fully vaccinated and have been experiencing only mild symptoms adding that “the same new sub lineage has also been reported in three other countries.”
Nyanga said 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,” said Nyanga.
He explained that 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. Nyanga further explained that 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,” he said.
Nyanga said the ministry awaits further guidance from the 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,” he said.
Nyanga said this was 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, he said, would keep the public informed about any new developments in this matter.