The World Health Organization will meet on Friday to assess a new variant detected in South Africa, which is feared to be the worst COVID-19 variant ever identified.
The meeting will determine whether the B.1.1.529 version should be designated a variant of “interest” or “concern”. The variant, which was identified on Tuesday, initially attracted attention because it contains an “extremely high number” of mutations.
Some world leaders have reacted hastily by issuing new precautions and travel restrictions, while markets around the world saw a drop in uncertainty.
Indian health officials on Friday put states on alert, asking them to conduct “rigorous screening and testing” of travelers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, and to trace and test their contacts.
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged all states to ensure that samples of COVID positive passengers are sent expeditiously to genome sequencing laboratories for testing.
The health ministry said New Zealand was also closely monitoring the global advisory on the new version. The deputy prime minister, Grant Robertson, said the new version is “a real wake-up call to all of us, that this pandemic is still going on” and reiterated the need to proceed with caution.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said press briefing On Thursday: “We don’t know much about it” [variant] So far. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the worry is, when you have so many mutations, it can affect how the virus behaves. ,
The infectious disease epidemiologist said researchers will “get to understand where these mutations are and what they might potentially mean” in terms of whether it is more transmitted or has the potential to evade immunity.
A large number of mutations does not necessarily make one type more passable. In August, similar concerns emerged in South Africa about a variant known as C.1.2, but it was never listed as of interest or concern. In Japan, some experts believe that the country’s apparent decline in cases was caused by mutations that led it to a “natural extinction”.
At the meeting, the WHO can decide whether to give the version B.184.108.40.2069 a name from the Greek alphabet. If it does, it can be named the next available letter nu.
England announced it was temporarily banning flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from midnight on Friday, and travelers returning from those destinations would have to quarantine. Israel followed suit, saying it would ban its citizens from traveling to southern Africa.
UK civil service sources said the variant, which is expected to be more transmissible and has the potential to evade immunity, “poses a potentially significant threat to the vaccine program that we have to avoid at all costs”.
Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, confirmed that the UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA) is investigating, adding that “more data is needed but we are still taking precautions”. Tweet late Thursday.
UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harris said: “This is the most important variant to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmission potential, severity and vaccine-susceptibility.”
Scotland confirmed late on Thursday that everyone arriving from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe would be required to self-isolate and take two PCR tests from Friday afternoon, compared with 4 a.m. on Saturday. Anyone who comes after will need to stay. A managed quarantine hotel.
Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said it was investigating and would swiftly close its borders to travelers from the African nation if the WHO classifies it as a major new variant. “If the medical advice is that we need to change, we won’t hesitate,” he told reporters Friday morning.
Markets edged higher on Friday, with world stocks falling 0.7% – their biggest weekly drop in nearly two months, Reuters reported.
South Africa’s rand fell 1%, Japan’s Nikkei 2.4% and Australian shares fell 0.6% in early trade, as did US crude futures. S&P 500 futures fell 0.4%, while the Australian and New Zealand dollars fell to three-month lows.
Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank in Sydney, said: “The trigger was the news of this COVID version … and the uncertainty of what that meant.” “You shoot first and ask questions later when news like this comes out.”
On Thursday, South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Jo Fahla said the new variant could drive an “exponential increase” in cases recently in Gauteng, the north-eastern province of Johannesburg City.
B.1.1529 is believed to have a total of 32 unusual mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against COVID.
Penny Moore, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, whose lab is assessing the variant, said: “We’re flying at warp speed.” She said there were anecdotal reports of reinfection but it was too early to draw any conclusions.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Director of South Africa’s Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said The news was “really worrying on a mutual level” and described the edition as “of great concern”.
Concern types, such as delta, show increased communicability, changes in virulence or clinical disease, and reduced effectiveness of public health and social measures. Types of interest are those that cause community transmission in multiple groups, and which have been found in many countries, but do not yet necessarily prove more virulent or transmissible.
Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, said The number of mutations can affect “how well it neutralizes the virus” and can give the virus an increased transmissibility.
South Africa has about 100 confirmed cases as of B.1.1.529, but the variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case being a traveler from South Africa.
The significance of the variant remains unknown, with the key to the coming days and weeks to determine its severity.
“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this version has,” said WHO’s Kerkhov, adding the version is “under surveillance” and “something observable”.
Ivan Birney, deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and a member of Spi-M advising the UK government, said there was a risk of worsening of the pandemic.
He urged countries not to repeat the mistake of failing to act quickly. “What we have learned from other situations like this – some have healed and some have not – is that as long as we are [investigating] You have to be reasonably insane,” he said.
The 32 mutations in the spike protein are almost twice the number associated with the delta variant. Such mutations can affect the virus’s ability to infect and spread cells, but also make it difficult for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
However, John Nkengsong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged caution. “There are a lot of variations out there but some of them have no effect on the trajectory of the pandemic,” he told a news conference on Thursday.