The world is huddling to deal with A new variant of Covid.
UK on Thursday banned flights from six African countries where the variant with multiple mutations was found, and the WHO is holding a meeting on Friday to decide whether to call B.1.1.529 a ‘variant of concern’.
The World Health Organization is holding the special meeting to discuss the variant that has an unusually high number of mutations to its spike protein, up to 10 by some accounts.
The move comes even as parts of the world is still struggling with the deadly Delta variant, and other parts are reopening after nearly two years of on-and-off lockdowns that have debilitated their economies.
“We don’t know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19.
The WHO meeting on Friday will discuss the impact of the new variant on the ongoing vaccines and treatments.
After the variant was detected in South Africa, the UK has suspended flights from six African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
The UK health secretary Sajid Javid made the announcement of banning flights connecting soon after the WHO briefing on the varient.
“More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now. From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine,” Javid wrote on Twitter.
It could be devastating for Africa if the new variant spreads, as the continent is far behind in vaccination for the pandemic. In South Africa, for instance, only 43% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated.
The new strain has been detected in 22 patients in South Africa. The pathogen was also found in Hong Kong and Botswana.
The new variant has 10 mutations in the spike protein, which scientists described as a ‘big jump in the evolution’ of the coronavirus pathogen. Delta variant, which wreaked havoc across the world much of this year, has two mutations, whereas the Beta variant has three, according to experts.