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

RT: Maria Van Kerkhove, Head a.i. Rising Illnesses and Zoonosis on the World Well being Group (WHO), speaks throughout a information convention on the state of affairs of the coronavirus on the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29, 2020.

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

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 mentioned Thursday.

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

“We do not know very a lot about this but. What we do know is that this variant has numerous mutations. And the priority is that when you have got so many mutations, it could possibly have an effect 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 brand 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 a part 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 Division of Well being on Thursday.

The B.1.1.529 variant accommodates a number of mutations related to elevated antibody resistance, which can scale back the effectiveness of vaccines, together with mutations that typically make it extra contagious, in line with 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, in line with the presentation.

The variant has additionally been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong, Joe Phaahla, minister of well being of South Africa, mentioned in the course of the briefing. 

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

The virus evolution working group will determine 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 is actually essential that there are not any knee-jerk responses right here, particularly with relation to South Africa,” Dr. Mike Ryan, government director of the WHO’s emergencies program, mentioned.

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