New COVID strains that make the virus more contagious and could render vaccine and antibody protection less effective, have spread rapidly across dozens of countries, according to the World Health Organisation.
In its latest epidemiological update, Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said the more contagious COVID-19 variant, first spotted in Britain, has now spread to 82 countries, whereas, the South African variant has spread in 40 countries, and the Brazilian strain has been found in nine countries, Van Kerkhove added.
"The variant of concern that was identified first in the United Kingdom... [has been] identified in 82 countries," Van Kerkhove said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion. "The variant that was identified in South Africa has been identified in 39 countries," she added.
The UK strain, also known as VOC 202012/01, has proven to transmit more easily than previous variants of the virus. Also, the WHO said that the South African variant--501Y.V2 "is less susceptible to antibody neutralisation" than previous variants.
The Brazil strain called P1 has raised similar concerns, sparking fears that it could be more contagious or cause more severe disease.
The WHO said more studies were needed but stressed that observational studies in South Africa did not indicate an increased risk of reinfection.
The emergence of new COVID-19 strains has raised serious concerns that they pose a heightened risk of reinfection, and also could hamper the effectiveness of the growing number of COVID-19 vaccines coming to market.