WHO warns of rise in new COVID-19 variants in Africa

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The recent emergence of COVID-19 new variants has called for concern in Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the new variant seems to have higher transmissibility.

It alerted countries to boost genomic surveillance and conduct analysis through the African genome sequencing laboratory network to detect any new mutations and strengthen efforts to curb the pandemic.

South Africa recently detected a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, which appears to transmit more quickly and is likely linked to the ongoing surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa expressed concern over the increasing rate of COVID-19.

“The emergence of new Coronavirus variants is common. However, those with higher speed of transmission or potentially increased pathogenicity are very concerning”, he said.

“Crucial investigations are underway to comprehensively understand the behaviour of the new mutant virus and steer response accordingly.”

South Africa has carried out most of the 4,948 sequences and has identified 35 SARS-CoV-2 lineages.

Nigeria is also carrying out more investigations on a variant identified in samples collected in August and October.

The WHO Regional Office for Africa is providing technical guidance and mobilizing additional financial support to speed up the genomic sequencing in most countries in the region as well as assisting in shipping samples to regional reference laboratories from countries that do not have specialized diagnostic facilities.

Dr Moeti noted that while detection and surveillance of coronavirus are critical components of the pandemic response, public health measures such as social distancing, handwashing and the wearing of masks also remain core to limiting infection.

“The current preventive measures are effective even on the new SARS-CoV-2 variants,” he added.

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