New York finds the case of a variant first seen in South Africa

A person from a suburb east of New York City has been confirmed as the first New Yorker to be infected with a contagious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday.

Few more details were offered on the case, particularly if it was confirmed or if the infected person who lives in Nassau County on Long Island had recently traveled. It wasn’t the first case of the South African variant in New York; Mr Cuomo announced last Monday that the variant was discovered in a Connecticut man who was hospitalized in New York City.

The variant known as B.1.351 was originally identified in South Africa in December and has since been found in dozen other countries and at least nine states, including California, Texas, and Virginia. The variant carries mutations that help bind more closely to human cells and that can help the virus evade some antibodies.

The New York emergence, warned by officials, was inevitable, underscoring the dangers of new varieties that may be more contagious or resistant to vaccines, especially as the state’s vaccination efforts continue to be hampered by limited dose supplies.

“We are in a race right now – between our vaccination ability and these variants that are actively trying to reproduce – and we will only win this race if we stay smart and disciplined,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday.

Two weeks ago, South Africa stopped using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after it was found not to protect participants in a clinical trial from mild or moderate illnesses caused by the variant.

Scientists in South Africa have also said that the immunity of people infected with previous versions of the coronavirus did not seem to protect them from mild or moderate cases if they were re-infected by the South African variant.

The Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan to update vaccines if the variant increases sharply in the US.

But Mr Cuomo on Sunday also gave cause for optimism, noting that the nationwide rate of positive test results was less than 3 percent for the first time since November. He said hospital stays continued to decline across the country.

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