World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) will meet on Friday to discuss the new variant of novel Coronavirus – B.1.1.529, which was discovered in South Africa. The TAG-VE will discuss whether this variant should be classified as a variant of interest or a variant of concern.
The global health watchdog has classified four variants of the novel Coronavirus as “variants of concern” so far– Alpha or UK variant (B.1.17); Beta or South African variant (B.1.351); Gamma or Brazil variant (P.1); and Delta or Indian variant (B.1.617.2).
“In this meeting, the experts will discuss if this variant should be designated as a variant of interest or variant of concern, and if that’s the case, then we will give it a name from the Greek alphabet,” WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19 Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said.
Meanwhile, South African foreign ministry has called UK’s decision to ban flights from South Africa because of the detection of a new variant as “rushed” as even the WHO is yet to advise on the same. Britain has banned flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The B.1.1.529 variant has been detected in relatively small numbers in Botswana, Hong Kong and South Africa but the authorities are perturbed by its high number of mutations that could evade the body’s immune response and become more transmissible.
Back in India, the Union Health Ministry, on November 25, issued an alert for the B.1.1.529 variant. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to all states and union territories, “This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel.”
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