"The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves. It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, said at a virtual press briefing.
The variant is "clearly very different" from the other incarnations of Covid, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday.
The new variant is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute said.
Highlighting the severity of the new variant, epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding said that the positivity rate in South Africa has gone up from 1 per cent to 30 per cent. "The spread across South Africa is quite sudden and widespread. And change from 1% positivity to suddenly 30% in a week," Mr Feigl-Ding posted on Twitter.
Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said that B.1.1.529 had an "unprecedented" number of mutations in the spike protein and was driving a recent rapid increase in case numbers in South Africa.
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