WHO: new variant of virus discovered in South Africa, UK

By Adekunle Yusuf and Moses Emorinken, Abuja

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday confirmed that new variants of the COVID-19 virus have been discovered in South Africa and United Kingdom.

Stating that the virus seems to be mutating over time, the WHO added that it is more likely to cause severe disease or death.

Its Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made this known yesterday during a media briefing.

The latest development has left the UK shut off from much of Europe after its closest allies cut transport ties due to fears about a new strain of the Coronavirus.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria are among countries to freeze travel links with the UK due to fears over new coronavirus strain. Other countries that have taken drastic action include Canada, Colombia, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The UK announced a surprise lockdown last week in London and parts of the country amid a surge in infections after the discovery of the new strain of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

“It is really too early to tell… but from what we see so far, it is growing very quickly. It is growing faster than (a previous variant) ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a press conference.

But the UK government has said it is working with other nations to reduce travel disruption.  The UK is working closely with other countries to minimise transport disruption, Johnson’s spokesman has said, after several nations banned travellers and freight from UK from arriving in their countries.

“We are working closely with our international partners and are working urgently to minimise the disruption,” the spokesman told reporters.

But, Ghebreyesus said: “In the past few days, there have been reports of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected. The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality.

“WHO is working with scientists to understand how these genetic changes affect how the virus behaves. The bottomline is that we need to suppress transmission of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses as quickly as we can. The more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change.

“I can’t stress enough – to all governments and all people – how important it is to take the necessary precautions to limit transmission.”

Ghebreyesus further revealed that $4.6 billion additional funding will be needed in the year 2021 to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for at least 20 per cent of the population of all low and lower-middle income countries.

He said: “Last week, we announced that the COVAX Facility – which is backed by 190 countries and economies – has secured access to nearly two billion doses of promising vaccine candidates.

“In early 2021, US$ 4.6 billion in additional funding will be needed to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for at least 20 percent of the population of all low and lower-middle income countries. This will ensure health workers and those at highest risk of severe disease are vaccinated, which is the fastest way to stabilise health systems and economies and stimulate a truly global recovery.

Read Also: COVAX rolls out nearly two billion vaccines in 2021 — WHO

“The hundred-hundred initiative of WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank aims to support 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans within 100 days for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools.

“Eighty-nine countries have already completed the assessments and our teams are working around the clock to ensure that governments and health systems are ready for global vaccine rollout. WHO has also released a new training course for health workers on COVID-19 vaccination, which is available at OpenWHO.org.

“Vaccines will help to end the pandemic, but the effects of COVID-19 will continue to be felt for many years to come.”