WHO says new COVID variant has unusually large number of mutations
- WHO said the new variant is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person
- It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage, an official said
- South Africa has detected 22 cases of the variant
World Health Organization officials said that the new variant that has been found in South Africa and Botswana carries an unusually large number of mutations. The new variant is called B.1.1529. The news about its mutation was informed by Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute. He confirmed the development in a statement published by the Science Media Centre.
He said that the new variant is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.
"It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage," Balloux said.
"For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future," the director of the UCL Genetics Institute added.
South Africa has detected 22 cases of the variant, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement.
"It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa," NICD Acting Executive Director Adrian Puren said in the statement.
"Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date," he added.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that it will meet the respective officials to discuss a new variant in the country.
Speaking at a media briefing, South Africa's Health Minister Joe Phaahla said he had hoped that the fourth wave would arrive in December or January, but this new variant was driving a spike in infection numbers.
"We were very optimistic initially, even when we saw the rise in numbers in Gauteng, that this could be contained because we thought they were just a cluster of the Delta variant, but now there is this new variant which has clearly been identified. It just reconfirms that this invisible enemy that we are dealing with is very unpredictable," Phaahla said.