• The coronavirus variant first found in South Africa has been detected in a New York resident, Gov. Cuomo said Sunday.
  • The variant, called B.1.351, has spread to 36 countries, and 10 states in the US.
  • The variant from South Africa may be able to evade vaccines, studies suggest.
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The coronavirus variant found in South Africa has been confirmed in a New York resident for the first time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday.

A resident of Nassau County tested positive for the variant from South Africa, which is called B.1.351. Further details about the case were not provided, including when it was detected, or whether the person had recently traveled. 

A man from Connecticut was hospitalized in New York City with the same variant on February 15. 

So far, 10 states have reported a case of the variant.

Trials suggest the variant may be able to evade antibodies produced by the body, which could potentially mean vaccines are less effective against it.

Cuomo said that the discovery of the variant from South Africa meant that precautions to stop the spread of the virus, like hand-washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing, were "more important than ever."

"We are in a race right now - between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate - and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined," Cuomo said in a statement.

The B.1.351 variant was first detected in South Africa in October 2020. It has since spread to 36 countries, including to the US, where it is circulating in at least 10 states, including California and Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are 22 reported cases of B.1.351 in the US overall, according to the CDC

The main concern with the variant found in South Africa is its ability to evade the antibodies produced by the body to fight infection, which could mean COVID-19 vaccines work less well, or that people get reinfected. In trials, existing Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were less effective against lab-made pseudoviruses containing some of the variant's mutations. 

Moderna and Pfizer have said they're developing booster shots for the variant.

AstraZeneca's shot was shown to be less effective against mild or moderate illness in South Africa, but the World Health Organisation has said the vaccine protects against severe disease and hospitalisation caused by the variant.

Covid-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, which are not yet approved, were less effective in clinical trials in South Africa.

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