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WHO calls meetings to discuss the new Covid variant found in South Africa

WHO calls meetings to discuss the new Covid variant found in South Africa

November 30, 2021: -The World Health Organization is monitoring a variant with numerous mutations to the spike protein. It schedules a special meeting Friday to discuss what it may mean for vaccines and treatments, officials said Thursday. According to the WHO, the variant, called B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa in small numbers.

“We don’t know very much regarding this yet, and what we do know is that this variant has a huge number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have several mutations, it can have an impact on the way virus behaves,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s the technical lead on Covid-19, said in a Q&A that was live-streamed on the organization’s social media channels.

The monitoring of the recent variant comes as Covid cases increased worldwide heading into the holiday season, with the WHO reporting hot spots in the regions and particularly in Europe.

The U.K. announced it is planning to ban flights from six African countries, which include South Africa, starting midday Friday.

The U.K. Health Security Agency “is investigating a new variant,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday in a tweet announcing the travel restrictions. “More data is needed, but we’re taking precautions now.”

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

According to slides he presented at the briefing, the B.1.1.529 variant contains multiple mutations associated with increased antibody resistance, reducing the effectiveness of vaccines, along with modifications that generally make it more contagious. According to the presentation, other mutations in the new variant haven’t been seen until now, so scientists don’t yet know if they are significant or will change how the virus behaves.

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

“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 will be happening. It’s a matter of days and weeks before we see that,” South Africa Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said during the briefing.

WHO calls meetings to discuss the new Covid variant found in South Africa