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

RT: Chief AI Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis at the World Health Organization (WHO), Maria Van Kerkhove, speaks during a news conference on the situation of coronavirus at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland January 29, 2020.

Dennis Balibus | Reuters

The World Health Organization is monitoring a new variant with multiple mutations in the spike protein, officials said Thursday, scheduling a special meeting on Friday to determine what this could mean for vaccines and treatments.

According to the WHO, a small number of variants named B.1.1.529 have been detected in South Africa.

“We don’t know a lot about it yet. What we do know is that this variant carries a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can affect the behavior of the virus.” “WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, said in a Q&A that was livestreamed on the organisation’s social media channels.

Monitoring of the new version is as follows Covid cases are increasing around the world With all regions and especially Europe reporting hot spots by WHO, the holiday season has entered.

South African scientists have detected more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that binds to cells in the body, said South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira at a media briefing organized by the South African Department of Health on Thursday. said.

According to slides presented at the briefing, the B. variant carries several mutations associated with increased antibody resistance, which can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, along with mutations that make it more infectious. Other mutations in the new variant have not yet been observed, so scientists do not yet know whether they are important or will not change how the virus behaves as of presentation.

The variant has spread rapidly through Gauteng province, which includes the country’s largest city, Johannesburg.

“Especially when there is a spike in Gauteng, everyone travels in and out of Gauteng from all corners of South Africa. So it is a given that in the next few days, the positivity rate and numbers are going to start increasing It is a matter of days and weeks,” South African Health Minister Joe Fahla said during the briefing.

Fahla said the variant has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong.

“Right now, researchers are getting together to understand where these mutations in the spike protein and furin cleavage site are, and what this could mean for our diagnosis or therapeutics and for our vaccines,” Van Kerkhove said. She said there are fewer than 100 complete genome sequences of the new mutations.

Van Kerkhove said the Virus Evolution Working Group would decide whether B.1.1529 would become a variant of interest or a variant of concern, after which the WHO would give the variant a Greek name.

“It’s really important that there is no knee-jerk reaction here, especially with respect to South Africa,” said Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies programme.


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