WHO calls special meeting to discuss new Covid variant from South Africa with ‘large number of mutations’

The World Well being Group is monitoring a brand new variant with quite a few mutations to the spike protein, scheduling a particular assembly Friday to debate what it could imply for vaccines and coverings, officers stated Thursday.

The variant, referred to as B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa in small numbers, based on the WHO.

“We do not know very a lot about this but. What we do know is that this variant has a lot of mutations. And the priority is that when you’ve gotten so many mutations, it may well have an effect on how the virus behaves,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, stated in a Q&A that was livestreamed on the group’s social media channels.

The monitoring of the brand new variant comes as Covid circumstances surge around the globe heading into the vacation season, with the WHO reporting sizzling spots in all areas and significantly in Europe.

The U.Okay. introduced it might ban flights from six African international locations, together with South Africa, beginning noon Friday.

The UK Well being Safety Company “is investigating a brand new variant,” Well being Secretary Sajid Javid stated Thursday in a tweet asserting the journey restrictions. “Extra knowledge is required however we’re taking precautions now.”

South African scientists have detected greater than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the a part of the virus that binds to cells within the physique, South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira stated in a media briefing hosted by the South Africa Division of Well being on Thursday.

The B.1.1.529 variant incorporates a number of mutations related to elevated antibody resistance, which can scale back the effectiveness of vaccines, together with mutations that usually make it extra contagious, based on slides he offered on the briefing. Different mutations within the new variant have not been seen till now, so scientists do not but know whether or not they’re important or will change how the virus behaves, based on the presentation.

The variant has unfold quickly by way of the Gauteng province, which incorporates the nation’s largest metropolis of Johannesburg. 

“Particularly when the spike occurs in Gauteng, everyone travels out and in of Gauteng from all corners of South Africa. So it is a on condition that within the subsequent few days, the start of rising positivity price and numbers goes to be taking place. It is a matter of days and weeks earlier than we see that,” South Africa Minister of Well being Joe Phaahla stated throughout the briefing.

The variant has additionally been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong, Phaahla stated. 

“Proper now, researchers are getting collectively to grasp the place these mutations are within the spike protein and the furin cleavage website, and what that doubtlessly might imply for our diagnostics or therapeutics and our vaccines,” Van Kerkhove stated. She stated there are fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the brand new mutation.

The virus evolution working group will resolve if B.1.1.529 will turn out to be a variant of curiosity or a variant of concern, after which the WHO would assign the variant a Greek identify, Van Kerkhove stated.

“It is actually necessary that there are not any knee-jerk responses right here, particularly with relation to South Africa,” Dr. Mike Ryan, govt director of the WHO’s emergencies program, stated.

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