The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that it could take “a few weeks” to understand the risk posed by the transmissibility of the newly mutated strain of the Covid variant that’s been detected in South Africa.
Speaking on Friday, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier laid out the organization’s approach, as it seeks to prevent the B.1.1.529 variant from spiralling out of control.
“Researchers are working to understand more about the mutations and what they potentially mean for how transmissible or virulent this variant is,” Lindmeier said, adding that it could take “a few weeks” to fully understand the mutated strain.
The WHO is currently exploring whether the strain needs to be classed as a variant of interest or of concern.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan has flagged how the variant shows “a number of worrying mutations in the spike protein.” Experts have indicated that the new strain has 30 mutations, more than double the Delta variant that swept through countries earlier this year, potentially allowing it to dodge vaccines.
The meeting of the international health body comes as European nations take swift measures to limit travel from countries in Africa, after the virus was detected in the region. Since Thursday, countries in Europe and Asia have imposed strict Covid restrictions on arrivals from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Addressing the new variant on Friday, the UK’s Health Security Agency called the mutation “the worst one we’ve seen so far” and “dramatically” different to what was originally detected. It is feared that the B.1.1.529 strain “may be more transmissible” than the Delta variant, with vaccines “less effective” against it.