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New COVID-19 threat: WHO calls special meeting to discuss B.1.1.529 variant from South Africa

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, this variant of COVID-19 is a concern because of its high number of mutations.

November 26, 2021 / 08:39 AM IST
A team of WHO is monitoring the new COVID-19 variant and experts on WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is to meet on November 26 to assess the new variant. (Image: Twitter/@WHO)

A team of WHO is monitoring the new COVID-19 variant and experts on WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is to meet on November 26 to assess the new variant. (Image: Twitter/@WHO)


The World Health Organization (WHO) has scheduled a special meeting on November 26 to discuss a new coronavirus variant that has been detected in South Africa, according to officials.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the variant is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced on November 25.

“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, said in a Q&A session that was live-streamed on the organization’s social media channels.

A team of WHO is monitoring the new variant and experts on WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is to meet on November 26 to assess the new variant.

“In the meeting, the experts will discuss to determine if this variant should be designated as a variant of interest or variant of concern, and if that’s the case then we will give it a name from the Greek alphabet,” Dr Kerkhove said.

Earlier on the day, South Africa Health Minister Phaahla said that the country has seen a dramatic rise in new infections. Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise, he said, adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases.

After a period of relatively low transmission in which South Africa recorded just over 200 new confirmed cases per day, in the past week the daily new cases rapidly increased to more than 1,200 on November 24. On November 25 they jumped to 2,465.

Also read | New COVID-19 threat: Centre issues advisory to states, UTs over South Africa variant

The new variant has a constellation of new mutations," said Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, who has tracked the spread of the delta variant in the country.

The "very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility, said de Oliveira.

Also read | Two doses of Covaxin 50% effective against Delta strain of COVID-19: Scientists

South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases including more than 89,000 deaths.

To date, the delta variant remains by far the most infectious and has crowded out other once-worrying variants including alpha, beta and mu. According to sequences submitted by countries worldwide to the world’s biggest public database, more than 99 percent are delta.
Moneycontrol News
first published: Nov 26, 2021 08:39 am
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