Authorities in Botswana held a Sunday night press conference to discuss the latest information about the B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant first identified there. In the meantime, southern Africans are asking: Where did this variant actually come from?
That’s because Botswana’s government said Friday that the four B.1.1.529 cases reported last week actually originated with fully vaccinated diplomats who visited from elsewhere. Their home country still is not identified.
“The new virus was detected on four foreign nationals who had entered Botswana on the 7th November 2021, on a diplomatic mission,” said Botswana in a statement. The four diplomats tested positive for COVID-19 on November 11 as they were leaving, and genomic sequencing confirmed the variant on November 24.
As of Sunday, another 15 cases have been confirmed in Botswana.
“We are pleased that our scientists, who are at the forefront of the detection of this highly transmissible variant, were quick to identify the variant,” said health minister Edwin Dikoloti. “We believe our country, and its scientists, deserve commendation.”
The B.1.1.529 variant is causing concern over some 30 mutations in the virus. Scientists suggest the variant is capable of spreading quickly and may not respond as well to existing COVID-19 vaccines. It’s a growing problem for South Africa, where the variant accounts for a number of recent cases, and for neighboring nations.
But even as airports around the globe shut their gates to flights from the region, and Africans themselves protested the stigma around calling B.1.1.529 the “South African variant,” no one in Botswana has said where the diplomats came from.
Omicron, the name given the new variant by the World Health Organization, has now been confirmed in the UK, Germany, Israel and a host of other nations. So it’s understandable that people in Botswana and South Africa, where highly sophisticated scientists have sequenced the virus and been transparent about their findings, bristle at the travel bans and isolation and want to know the answer.
They’re not alone as the world waits with them.
Image: University of Hong Kong file