WHO to meet on Friday to assess new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa

The World Health Organization is monitoring the new coronavirus Variant B.1.1.529 was first detected in South Africa and will hold a “special meeting” on Friday to discuss whether the heavily mutated strain will become a type of interest or a type of concern, a top official said. .

The latest version is the most heavily mutated version ever discovered. First identified in South Africa earlier this week, the strain has already spread to neighboring countries, including Botswana, where it has reportedly been detected in fully vaccinated people.

The new variant has been flagged by scientists at an alarmingly high number of spike mutations that could make the virus more resistant to vaccines, increase its transmission potential and lead to more severe COVID-19 symptoms. Is.

“There are less than 100 whole genome sequences available. We don’t know a lot about this right now. What we do know is that there are a large number of mutations in this variant. And the worry is, when you have so many If mutations occur, it could have an impact on how the virus behaves, Maria Van Kerkhove, infectious disease epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead at WHO, said during a virtual Q&A session on Thursday.

She said that right now researchers are meeting to understand where these mutations and spike proteins are and what this could potentially mean for COVID19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Kerkhove said that WHO colleagues in South Africa are planning to conduct a neutral study, which will take a few weeks for us to understand the effect of any potential vaccine of this type.

Emphasizing that a lot of work is underway on the new version, Kerkhove said the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Virus Development is discussing it with colleagues in South Africa.

“We’re also meeting again tomorrow. We’re calling a special meeting to discuss this, not to cause alarm, but just because we have this system, we can bring these scientists together and Can discuss what that means and also set a timeline for how long it will take for us to get those answers, he said. So right now, it’s kind of what’s under surveillance. TAG Virus Evolution Working The group will discuss whether it will become a type of interest or a type of concern. And if so, we will give it a Greek name. But it remains to be seen,” she said.

It’s good that these kinds of types are being detected because it means there’s a system that’s working, Kerkhov said. The WHO has said that only 27 percent of healthcare workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving the bulk of the workforce vulnerable against the pandemic.

After nearly four months of continuous decline, there has been a decline in COVID-19 cases in the general population in Africa. For the first time since the peak of the third wave in August, cases in southern Africa jumped 48 per cent in the week ending November 21 compared to the previous week. To date, more than 227 million vaccine doses have been given in Africa. In 39 countries providing data, 3.9 million doses have been given to health workers.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said that with a new surge in cases in Africa following the year-end festive season, countries should urgently accelerate the rollout of vaccines for health care workers. According to WHO, there has been an increase in vaccine shipments in the last three months. Since February 2021, Africa has received 330 million doses from the COVAX facility, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Force and bilateral agreements.

Of these, 83 per cent have been delivered since August alone. As the supply of vaccines grows, it becomes more important to remove barriers to rapid spread and accelerate rollout. Kerkhov said that the more the COVID-19 virus spreads, the more opportunities the virus has to mutate, the more mutations there will be.

So, we need to reduce that transmission so that we can reduce the chances of more variants emerging. But it is worth seeing. I would say we are worried but I think you want us to worry, she said. She noted that the WHO was tracking at least 30 sub-lineages of the highly permeable delta variant, which are also developing.

Against the backdrop of the new variant being detected in South Africa, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Emergency Program, cautioned that there should be no knee-jerk reaction, particularly with respect to South Africa, raising interesting and important signs. Used to be. For which we are doing proper risk assessment and risk management. He said that in the past when there has been any mention of any variation of the virus, everyone was closing borders and restricting travel.

It’s really important that we stay open, and that we focus on understanding and characterizing the problem and not penalizing countries for doing excellent scientific work and really understanding what they’re seeing and what they’re looking for. We are open and transparent, Ryan said. The WHO official said it was really important that countries such as the UK and South Africa, which are openly sharing and transparent about variants, are supported.

If we want to defeat this virus, we need good information. And good information will only come when people feel they can share that information without being penalized for doing so. We have not fully assessed any risk or risk associated with this change. He said this remains to be seen and needs to be studied. Cautioning people that viruses evolve and vary, Ryan said it is not the end of the world and the sky is not falling.

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