World Health Organization officials met on Thursday to discuss a new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa and Botswana.
The new variant, called B.1.1529, carries an unusually large number of mutations, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a statement published by the Science Media Centre. It’s likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, he said.
“It is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage,” Balloux said. “For the time being, it should be closely monitored and analysed, but there is no reason to get overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency in the near future.”
South Africa has detected 22 cases of the variant, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement.
“It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa,” NICD acting executive director Adrian Puren said in the statement.
“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date.”
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier it will meet South African officials next week to discuss a new variant in the country.