WHO calls special meeting to discuss new Covid variant found in South Africa with ‘a large number of mutations’

Maria Van Kerkhove is the Head a.i. The World Health Organization's Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis spoke during a news conference on the situation of the coronaviruses at the United Nations in January 2020.

The World Health Organization will hold a special meeting Friday to discuss the implications of a new variant of the spike protein for vaccines and treatments.

According to the WHO, the variant has been found in small numbers in South Africa.

We don't know a lot about this. We know that this variant has a large number of changes. The WHO technical lead on Covid-19 said in a Q&A that it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.

As Covid cases surge around the world heading into the holiday season, the WHO reports hot spots in all regions and particularly in Europe.

South African scientists have found more than 30 different changes to the spikeProtein, the part of the virus that bind to cells in the body, according to a media briefing hosted by the South Africa Department of Health on Thursday.

The B. 1.1.529 variant contains multiple genes that may affect the effectiveness of vaccines and make it more contagious, according to slides he presented at the briefing. Scientists don't know if the new variant will change how the virus behaves or if they are significant.

The variant has spread quickly through the province, which has the largest city of Johannesburg.
Everybody travels from all corners of South Africa when there is a spike. The beginning of rising positivity rate and numbers is going to happen in the next few days. South Africa's Minister of Health said it was a matter of days and weeks before they saw that.

The variant has also been found in Hong Kong.
Van Kerkhove said that researchers are getting together to understand where the spike protein and furin cleavage site are, and what that could mean for the future of diagnostics and vaccines. She said there were less than 100 full genome sequences.

The WHO will assign a Greek name to the variant after the virus evolution working group decides if it will be a variant of interest or concern.

The executive director of the WHO's emergencies program said that it was important that there were no knee-jerk responses.


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