The number of countries and territories where the variant of the coronavirus initially spotted in the United Kingdom is now found stands at 50 and it is 20 for the variant identified in South Africa, according to the World Health Organization. A third mutation whose discovery Japan announced on Sunday could impact the immune response and requires further study, according to the WHO, which mentions in its weekly bulletin “a disturbing variant”.
“The more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunity it has to mutate”, underlines the WHO. “High levels of contamination mean that we should expect more variants to emerge.” SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for Covid-19 disease. First reported to the WHO on December 14, the British variant VOC 202012/01 has been found in 50 countries, territories and areas, the UN agency said.
The test results show a distribution by age and sex similar to that of the other variants in circulation. Data from contact tracing reveals “greater transmissibility where the reference case is of the variant strain”. The extent of the geographical spread of the two variants is likely underestimated, adds the WHO, due to a bias related to the fact that they were discovered in countries with a genetic sequencing capacity of the virus.
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The variant identified in South Africa 501Y.V2, first reported on December 18, 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 the variants that previously circulated in South Africa,” said the WHO in its bulletin released Tuesday evening. “In addition, while this new variant does not appear to cause a more severe form of the disease, the rapid increase in the number of cases observed has put health systems under pressure.”
New variant in Japan and Brazil
The WHO emphasizes at the same time that it was notified on January 9 by Japan of the discovery of a new variant in four people, two children and two adults, who arrived from Brazil on January 2. “This variant has 12 spike protein mutations, including three disturbing mutations common with VOC 202012/01 and 501Y.V2,” she explains, “which may impact transmissibility and immune response.”
The WHO adds that researchers in Brazil have reported the emergence of a similar variant that likely developed independently of that found in Japan. For his part, Brazilian researcher Felipe Naveca, who collaborates with the Fiocruz institute, said that the SARS-CoV-2 variant discovered in Japan was the result of an evolution of “a viral line from Brazil, which circulates in the Amazon. “, provisionally named” B.1.1.28 (K417N / E484K / N501Y) “.
“The extent and consequences in terms of public health of these new variants require further research”, insists the WHO. On Tuesday, the UN agency hosted a meeting of 1,750 international scientists to discuss gaps in knowledge of emerging variants and priorities for research.
“Our collective goal is to be one step ahead and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study disturbing variants in order to understand what this entails in efforts to control the disease,” said Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, the head of development and research at WHO.
The new variants show the importance of increasing the diagnostic capacity and systematic sequencing of the virus, underlines the WHO. “Research continues to assess the impact of the new variants on transmission, severity as well as any potential impact on vaccines, therapy and diagnosis,” according to the organization.