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Coronavirus: WHO holds special meeting on disturbing new variant of COVID-19

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Coronavirus: WHO holds special meeting on disturbing new variant of COVID-19

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GENEVA – World Health Organization advisers hold a special session on Friday to flesh out information on a disturbing new variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa, although a high-level expert says its impact on COVID-19 vaccines may not be known for weeks.

The technical advisory group on the evolution of COVID-19 was meeting virtually to discuss the so-called B.1.1.529 variant which caused the stock markets to vanish and led the European Union to recommend a halt to flights to the Southern Africa.

The group could decide whether this is a “worrying variant” – the most disturbing type, like the well-known delta variant – or an “interesting variant” and whether to use a Greek letter for the to classify.

“We don’t know much about it yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have that many mutations, it can impact the behavior of the virus, “Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO COVID-19 technical officer, said in a social media chat on Thursday.

Less than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are available to date, she said.

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

Reached by phone, the chair of the advisory group, Dr Anurag Agrawal, director of the New Delhi Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, said it was too early to comment on the variant. He said more data was needed before they could supplement the information already available.

“This is one to watch. I would say we have concerns, but I think you would like us to have concerns,” Van Kerkhove said. “We have people who are on it.”

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Aniruddha Ghosal contributed to this report from New Delhi.


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