Another new variant of coronavirus has emerged in Nigeria, Africa’s leading public health official has said.
John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed the existence of the new P681H strain on Thursday – saying it is different to the ones found recently in the UK and South Africa.
Medics do not currently believe the new strain is more infectious than previous strains, but Dr Nkengasong added that scientists needed ‘more time’ to study it.
That strain has emerged as Nigeria reports record numbers of coronavirus cases – with 1,133 recorded on Wednesday – though the new variant is not thought to be behind that surge.
The country, Africa’s most-populous, reported just five deaths from the virus Wednesday, well below its first-wave peak.
Coronavirus variants emerge routinely as the virus spreads with some 4,000 logged to date, but those in the UK and South Africa have been widely reported because scientists believe they are significantly more infectious than previous strains.
New variants can also affect the ability of vaccines to fight the virus, though this is not thought to be the case with the UK or South African variant.
The Nigerian variant’s potential effect on vaccines is so-far unclear. ‘Give us some time,’ Dr Nkengasong urged. ‘It’s still very early.’
An emergency meeting of the Africa CDC will now take place this week to discuss the new strains, including the one in South Africa that has seen cases soar.
The Nigerian variant was found in two patient samples collected on August 3 and October 9 in southern Osun state, 100 miles north of Lagos, a preliminary report into the virus said.
Unlike the variant seen in the UK, ‘we haven’t observed such rapid rise of the lineage in Nigeria and do not have evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria,’ the report added.
However, the relative difference in scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria vs the U.K. may imply a reduced power to detect such changes.’
Dr Nkengasong said the Nigeria CDC and the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases will analyse more samples.
The news comes as infections surge again in parts of the African continent.
The region has now reported more than 2.5million coronavirus cases and 60,000 deaths from the virus, driven in part by an ‘exponential’ outbreak in South Africa that is being driven by a new mutant form of the virus
Announcing the new figures on Wednesday, Dr Mkhize said the ‘rate of spread is much faster than the first wave and we will surpass the peak of the first wave in the coming days.’
‘We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread,’ he added.
‘We can never stress enough the need for citizens to take every precaution necessary as we celebrate the festive season and look for reprieve from a tough year.
‘Unfortunately, Covid-19 is unrelenting and we, therefore, cannot afford to be complacent at this stage.’
The surge in cases is being driven by young people who have been accused of ignoring social distancing rules at end-of-year parties and festive celebrations.
Dr Mkhize has raised the possibility that the disease could also be more lethal in young people, saying that doctors ‘are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness’.
However, he also stressed that research into the new variant – first identified in South Africa on Friday last week – is still in its early stages and it is too soon to definitivley tell whether it causes more severe disease.
South Africa has reported a record number of coronavirus cases in a single day, driven by a new ‘more infectious’ variant that has already been found in the UK.
The country logged more than 14,000 cases on Wednesday, its highest total of the pandemic so far, while deaths topped 400 for the first time since August 5.
Dr Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s minister of health, warned the virus is now spreading ‘exponentially’ and new lockdown measures may have to be brought in.
Eight countries have banned travellers from South Africa to try and contain the spread of the new strain, including the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
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