The WHO today will decide whether the newly found Covid-19 variant is one of concern or interest. The B.1.1.529 variant was first detected in South Africa, and it is highly mutated.
The new variant was first identified on Tuesday and became the centre of attention due to an "extremely high number" of mutations. Some countries issued new precautions and travel restrictions due to the new development.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead, told the media that the international body doesn't know much about the variant yet other than its large number of mutations. These mutations could have an impact on how the virus behaves, she said. A high number of mutations do not, however, guarantee that it is more dangerous. Experts had similar concerns about another variant, C.1.2, also found in South Africa. But it was never listed as a variant of interest or concern.
"Researchers will meet to understand what these mutations are and what that potentially means. They will assess whether it is more transmissible or has the potential to evade immunity," said the infectious disease epidemiologist to The Guardian.
Indian health officials have asked states to carry out "rigorous screening and testing" for travellers from South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong. Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has ordered all Covid-19 positive samples to be sent for genome sequencing.
Britain and Israel have temporarily banned flights coming from South Africa and nearby countries. South Africa's Foreign Ministry said that the decision seems to be rushed. Foreign minister Naledi Pandor said that they would ask UK to reconsider the decision, reported The Guardian.
A major transit hub, Singapore, said that all arrivals from South Africa and nearby nations will be restricted. All non-Singaporean or non-permanent residents with recent travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe will not have entry to the island nation.
Italian health minister Roberto Speranza said that their scientists are studying the new B.1.1.529 variant and will exercise the greatest caution in the meantime. Deputy prime minister of New Zealand Grant Robertson said that the discovery of the new variant is a real wake-up call to remind everyone that the pandemic is still going on.
The JiJi news service reported that Japan has also imposed border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries. Some Japanese experts believe that the decrease in new Covid-19 cases in the country is due to mutations driving the virus to its "natural extinction".