The WHO meets on Friday to evaluate the new variant B.1.1.529

A vendor at a street stall in Soweto, South Africa, on November 26, 2021. REUTERS / Siphiwe Sibeko
A vendor at a street stall in Soweto, South Africa, on November 26, 2021. REUTERS / Siphiwe Sibeko

GENEVA, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization is convening a meeting of experts from Geneva at noon (1100 GMT) to assess the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, amid growing concern globally, a spokesperson said.

Several European and Asian countries tightened their travel restrictions on Friday after a new variant of the coronavirus, possibly resistant to current vaccines, was detected in South Africa, and the European Union, the United Kingdom and India were among the countries that announced border controls. more strict.

“We don’t know much yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when there are so many mutations it can have an impact on the behavior of the virus,” said Maria van Kerkhove, epidemiologist and technical director. of the WHO on COVID-19.

“This variant, I would say it is worrying. But I think you would want us to be concerned,” he told viewers of an event on social media on Thursday.

Van Kerkhove said it was good that variants were detected, adding: “It means we have a system in place.”

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the UN agency’s technical advisory group and other experts on the evolution of the virus were consulting with South African researchers.

“WHO is convening a meeting … to better understand the timing of the studies that are being carried out and to determine whether this variant should be designated as a variant of interest or variant of concern,” he said.

Nearly 100 sequences of the variant have been reported, and early analyzes show it has “a large number of mutations” that require further study, Lindmeier said.

WHO has no comment for now on travel restrictions imposed by some authorities on southern African countries related to the variant, it added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Alison Williams and Kim Coghill; translated by José Muñoz at the Gdańsk office)

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