Scientists in South Africa said Thursday they had detected a new Covid-19 variant with multiple mutations, blaming it for a surge in infection numbers.
"Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa," virologist Tulio de Oliveira told a hastily-called news conference.
The variant, which goes by the scientific lineage number B.1.1.529, "has a very high number of mutations," he said.
It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, he said.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of "serious concern" and behind an "exponential" increase in reported cases.
Daily infections shot to more than 1,200 cases on Wednesday, from around 100 earlier this month.
South Africa last year detected the Beta variant of the virus although until now infection numbers have been driven by the Delta variant, which was originally detected in India.
South Africa has the highest pandemic numbers in Africa, notching up around 2.95 million cases, of which 89,657 have been fatal