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

The World Health Organization is monitoring a new variant with quite a few mutations to the spike protein, scheduling a special meeting Friday to discuss what it could imply for vaccines and coverings, officers mentioned Thursday.

The variant, known as B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa in small numbers, in accordance to the WHO.

"We don't know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead on Covid-19, mentioned in a Q&A that was livestreamed on the group's social media channels.

The monitoring of the new variant comes as Covid instances surge world wide heading into the vacation season, with the WHO reporting scorching spots in all areas and significantly in Europe.

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

The UK Health Security Agency "is investigating a new variant," Health Secretary Sajid Javid mentioned Thursday in a tweet saying the journey restrictions. "More data is needed but we're taking precautions now."

South African scientists have detected greater than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the half of the virus that binds to cells within the physique, South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira mentioned in a media briefing hosted by the South Africa Department of Health on Thursday.

The B.1.1.529 variant accommodates a number of mutations related with elevated antibody resistance, which can cut back the effectiveness of vaccines, alongside with mutations that usually make it extra contagious, in accordance to slides he introduced on the briefing. Other mutations within the new variant haven't been seen till now, so scientists don't but know whether or not they’re vital or will change how the virus behaves, in accordance to the presentation.

The variant has unfold quickly by means of the Gauteng province, which accommodates the nation's largest metropolis of Johannesburg. 

"Especially when the spike happens in Gauteng, everybody travels in and out of Gauteng from all corners of South Africa. So it's a given that in the next few days, the beginning of rising positivity rate and numbers is going to be happening. It's a matter of days and weeks before we see that," South Africa Minister of Health Joe Phaahla mentioned through the briefing.

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

"Right now, researchers are getting together to understand where these mutations are in the spike protein and the furin cleavage site, and what that potentially may mean for our diagnostics or therapeutics and our vaccines," Van Kerkhove mentioned. She mentioned there are fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the 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 mentioned.

"It's really important that there are no knee-jerk responses here, especially with relation to South Africa," Dr. Mike Ryan, govt director of the WHO's emergencies program, mentioned.

CNBC Health & Science

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primarily based on web site supplies www.cnbc.com

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