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

RT: Maria Van Kerkhove, Head a.i. Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis on the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks throughout a news convention on the state of affairs of the coronavirus on the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020.

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

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 stated 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, stated 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 around the globe heading into the vacation season, with the WHO reporting sizzling spots in all areas and notably in Europe.

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

The B.1.1.529 variant incorporates a number of mutations related with elevated antibody resistance, which can scale 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 in the new variant have not been seen till now, so scientists do not 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 the Gauteng province, which incorporates 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 stated through the briefing.

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

“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 stated. She stated 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 stated.

“It’s really important that there are no knee-jerk responses here, especially with relation to South Africa,” Dr. Mike Ryan, government director of the WHO’s emergencies program, stated.

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