Detection of B.1.351 SARS-CoV-2 Variant Strain - Zambia, December 2020.
Mwenda M., Saasa N., Sinyange N., Busby G., Chipimo PJ., Hendry J., Kapona O., Yingst S., Hines JZ., Minchella P., Simulundu E., Changula K., Nalubamba KS., Sawa H., Kajihara M., Yamagishi J., Kapin'a M., Kapata N., Fwoloshi S., Zulu P., Mulenga LB., Agolory S., Mukonka V., Bridges DJ.
The first laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, in Zambia were detected in March 2020 (1). Beginning in July, the number of confirmed cases began to increase rapidly, first peaking during July-August, and then declining in September and October (Figure). After 3 months of relatively low case counts, COVID-19 cases began rapidly rising throughout the country in mid-December. On December 18, 2020, South Africa published the genome of a SARS-CoV-2 variant strain with several mutations that affect the spike protein (2). The variant included a mutation (N501Y) associated with increased transmissibility.<sup>†</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>§</sup> SARS-CoV-2 lineages with this mutation have rapidly expanded geographically.<sup>¶</sup><sup>,</sup>** The variant strain (PANGO [Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak] lineage B.1.351<sup>††</sup>) was first detected in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa from specimens collected in early August, spread within South Africa, and appears to have displaced the majority of other SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating in that country (2). As of January 10, 2021, eight countries had reported cases with the B.1.351 variant. In Zambia, the average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases increased 16-fold, from 44 cases during December 1-10 to 700 during January 1-10, after detection of the B.1.351 variant in specimens collected during December 16-23. Zambia is a southern African country that shares substantial commerce and tourism linkages with South Africa, which might have contributed to the transmission of the B.1.351 variant between the two countries.