WHO meets amid global alarm over new Covid-19 variant found in southern Africa

LONDON — Countries around the world rushed Friday to identify possible cases and travel from southern Africa, where a new variant of Covid-19 emerged as a sudden source of global alarm.

The global battle to contain the new variant was met with a plea for caution from the World Health Organization (WHO), which met Friday for an emergency meeting to review it.

But stock and oil prices plummeted and the US woke up the day after Thanksgiving with an uncertain holiday season ahead.

Scientists are still learning about the variant, which was first identified earlier this week and is currently identified as B.1.1.529, but its worrisome nature sparked rapid developments as fears hit governments and markets alike.

The UK said at the end of Thursday that it was add six African countries on the red list, banning all direct flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

They were joined by Israel, while the President of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Friday that the 27-member bloc is already fighting its own battle Covid crisis, would next set of proposals. Singapore, Japan and Croatia also said they would restrict travel from the region, Reuters said.

Scientists are concerned about the new variant due to its high mutation rate and rapid early spread in South Africa.Denis Farrell / AP

The UK Health Security Agency said it was investigating the B.1.1.529 variant, which it said contains a large number of mutations that could alter behavior related to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.

“This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and susceptibility to vaccines,” said Dr Jenny Harries, UK chief executive Health Security Agency. “This is a clear reminder to everyone that this pandemic is not over.”

The variant was found earlier this week and was discovered in South Africa and Botswana. The extent of the spread has yet to be determined, but a few cases have been confirmed outside Africa.

The government of Hong Kong said Thursday that it had discovered two cases.

Israel also said it had identified a case in a traveler returning from Malawi, with two other suspected cases in isolation. “We are currently on the brink of a state of emergency,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned. “Our main principle is to act fast, strong and now.”

About 41 percent of adults in South Africa are vaccinated and the number of injections per day is relatively low.Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The WHO said in an emailed statement Friday that it was convening a meeting of its technical advisory group on virus evolution to better understand the timeline for ongoing investigations into the variant and to determine whether it should be classified as an “interesting variant” or not. “variety of care.”

Maria Van Kerkhove, and Infectious Diseases Epidemiologist and Covid-19 Technical Leader at the World Health Organization said Thursday that if designated, it would be given a Greek name.

“We don’t know much about this yet, but what we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations,” Van Kerkhove said in a video on Thursday. “The concern is that when you have that many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.”

But Van Kerkhove said it was good that the mutations had been discovered, because it meant there was a system.

The organization warned that it would take several weeks to understand the impact of this variant.

“At the moment there are warnings about implementing travel measures,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday at a UN briefing in Geneva, according to Reuters. “WHO recommends that countries continue to adopt a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”

It would take several weeks to determine the transferability of the variant and the effectiveness of vaccines and therapies against it, he said, noting that 100 sequences of the variant have been reported so far.

Vivi Vitalone, Associated Press and Reuters contributed.


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