Coronavirus: WHO is hosting a special meeting on a worrying new variant of COVID-19

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GENEVA – Adviser to the World Health Organization is holding a special session on Friday to deepen information about a worrying new variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa, although a top expert says that its effect on COVID-19 vaccine may not be known in weeks.

The technical advisory group on the development of covid-19 met practically to discuss the so-called B.1.1.529 variant, which has caused the stock markets to faint and led the EU to recommend a break in flights to southern Africa.

The group can decide whether it is a “variant of interest” – the most worrying type, such as the well-known delta variant – or a “variant of interest” and whether to use a Greek letter to classify it.

“We do not know much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that having so many mutations can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” said Maria Van Kerkhove , WHO’s technical leader for covid-19, in a chat on social media on Thursday.

Fewer than 100 complete genome sequences of the variant are available so far, she said.

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand the impact of this variant on any potential vaccines, for example,” Van Kerkhove said.

The chairman of the advisory group, Dr. Anurag Agrawal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, was reached by phone, saying it was too early to comment on the variant. He said more data was needed before he could add the information that was already available.

“This is one to look at. I would say we are concerned, but I think you want us to be concerned,” Van Kerkhove said. “We have people doing this.”

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Aniruddha Ghosal contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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