WHO holds meeting on new COVID variant

World Health Organization advisers are holding a special session to elaborate on information about a worrying new variant of coronavirus that has been discovered in South Africa, although a top expert says its impact on COVID-19 vaccines may not be known for weeks.

The technical advisory group on the development of COVID-19 met almost on Friday to discuss the so-called B.1.1.529 variant, which has caused stock markets to faint and led the EU to recommend a break in flights to southern Africa.

The group could decide whether it is a “variant of concern” – the most worrying type, like the well-known delta variant – or a “variant of interest”, and whether it should use a Greek letter to classify it.

“We do not know much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that having so many mutations can have an impact on how the virus behaves. , ”Said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical manager at COVID-19., In a chat on social media on Thursday.

Fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are available so far, she said.

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines, for example,” Van Kerkhove said.

The advisory group chairman Dr. Anurag Agrawal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, reached by phone, saying it was too early to comment on the variant. He said more data was needed before he could add the information already available.

“This is one to see. I would say we are concerned, but I think you would like us to be concerned,” Van Kerkhove said. “We have people involved in this.”

Aniruddha Ghosal contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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