UK covid variant that was found to be spread only in Britain, has now spread to 50 countries while South African coronavirus strain has now been found in 20.
According to the report published by the World Health Organization, the two coronavirus mutations are now spread in many territories. Also, a third new coronavirus “variant of concern” has been found in Japan that may impact immune response.
“The more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge,” said WHO. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.
The agency said that since first being reported to the WHO on December 14, the UK strain VOC 202012/01 has been found in 50 countries, territories and areas. Test results showed the age and sex distribution was similar to that of other circulating variants, while contact tracing data revealed: “higher transmissibility (secondary attack rates) where the index case has the variant strain”.
The South African-identified variant 501Y.V2, has now been detected in 20 countries, territories and areas. “From preliminary and ongoing investigations in South Africa, it is possible that the 501Y.V2 variant is more transmissible than variants circulating in South Africa previously,” the WHO weekly report said.
“Moreover, while this new variant does not appear to cause more severe illness, the observed rapid increases in case numbers has placed health systems under pressure.” The geographical spread of both variants is likely underestimated, said the WHO, given a bias towards detection in countries with virus sequencing capacity.
“This variant has 12 mutations to the spike protein, including three mutations of concern in common with VOC 202012/01 and 501Y.V2” it said, “which may impact transmissibility and host immune response”.
“The extent and public health significance of these new variants require further investigation,” the report said.
The WHO held a meeting of 1,750 international scientists on Tuesday to discuss critical knowledge gaps and research priorities for emerging variants.
“Our collective goal is to get ahead of the game and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study variants of concern and understand their implications for disease control efforts,” said Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, the WHO’s research and development chief.