The South African variant has spread to several countries around the world and today the first case was confirmed in Kosovo. According to experts, the African variant of the coronavirus could threaten the protection offered by vaccines or previous Covid infection.
A study in Israel - still unconfirmed - found that some people who were fully vaccinated against Covid were still infected with the South African variant.
What is the South African variant?
All viruses, including the one caused by Covid-19, are constantly evolving into new versions or variants. These small genetic changes occur as the virus causes its copies to spread and flourish. Most are without consequences and some may even be harmful to the survival of the virus, but some variants can make the virus more contagious or threatening to humans.
The South African variant, also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351, has some important changes that experts are studying.
Is it more dangerous?
The South African variant carries a mutation, called the N501Y, which appears to make it more contagious or easier to spread. Another mutation, called E484K, can help the virus bypass a person's immune system and can affect the functioning of coronavirus vaccines.
There is no evidence that the South African variant causes a more serious health condition for the vast majority of people who become infected. As with the original version, the risk is higher for people who are elderly or have health problems.
However, there are still concerns that it may spread more easily and vaccines may not work so well against it.