New Delhi: As concerns mount over the new coronavirus variant, advisers to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday held a special session to flesh out information about the B.1.1.529 variant, that has been first reported in South Africa.
“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study. It’ll take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said.
Lindmeier further said that researchers are working to understand more following a virtual meeting of the technical advisory group on the evolution of COVID-19 was.
Addressing the media on the issue, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “This is a developing incident. We just saw a briefing by WHO. I don’t have any immediate information on the steps that we are taking. This is an issue more for our Health authorities and Civil Aviation authorities.”
The effects of the COVID variant could be seen on the stock markets, which plummeted as concerns over the new mutated virus spooked investors across the world. The European Union said it will recommend a pause in flights to southern Africa.
The group could decide if it’s a “variant of concern” — the most worrying type, like the well-known delta variant — or a “variant of interest,” and whether to use a Greek letter to classify it.
“We don’t know very much about this, yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, in a social-media chat Thursday.
Fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are so far available, she said.
“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines, for example,” Van Kerkhove said.
Reached by phone, advisory group chairman Dr. Anurag Agrawal, the director of Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, said it was too soon to comment on the variant. He said that more data was needed before he could add to the information that was already available.
“This is one to watch. I would say we have concern, but I think you would want us to have concern,” Van Kerkhove said. “We have people who are on this.”
(With inputs from PTI)