WHO calls emergency meeting, scientists panic over ‘heavily mutated’ COVID-19 variant that’s exploding

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(Video Credit: ABC News)

The World Health Organization called an emergency meeting on Friday over a new COVID mutation that is burning through South Africa and has already popped up in Israel, causing scientists to panic, demanding individuals get vaccinated or get a booster.

South Africa’s Minister of Health Joe Phaahla has identified the mutation as B.1.1.529. A greek codename will most likely be assigned by the WHO. Scientists are claiming that it could be more transmissible than the Delta variant and appears to be highly contagious among young people.

The BBC is reporting that the variant could be the most heavily mutated one so far since the pandemic began. Journalist James Gallagher said that one scientist told him that the variant is “horrific.”

“This variant did surprise us,” Tulio de Oliveira, who is the director of the Center for South Africa’s Epidemic Response and Innovation, told the BBC. “It has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations than we expected.”

(Video Credit: 10 Tampa Bay)

The variant surfaced in Botswana earlier in November, according to Nature magazine. Scientists are trying to figure out if the variant somehow evades the immune response.

Penny Moore, a virologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, borrowed former President Trump’s terminology, declaring, “We’re flying at warp speed.”

“A burning question is does it reduce vaccine effectiveness because it has so many changes.” Aris Katzourakis, who is an expert in virus evolution at the University of Oxford, stated.

The UK and Israel have now banned all flights from South Africa and five other African countries. The United States, however, is still allowing flights in from those countries at this time.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned the new variant “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain, and “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective” against it, according to Fox News. He believes it could make vaccines as much as 40 percent less effective.

Grant Shapps, the British transportation secretary, noted that the spike protein was “dramatically different” from the virus that the vaccines were designed to fight against. There were over 30 changes to it according to Nature magazine.

There have been 77 confirmed cases in Gauteng province in South Africa, four cases in Botswana, and one in Hong Kong. There is also a case now confirmed in Israel.

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, who is an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, is calling for border restrictions over the new variant.

“Looks like vaccine evasion could be real with this variant,” he tweeted. He pointed out that the two patients in Hong Kong who had the variant had both received the Pfizer vaccine.

One of those infected had recently been in South Africa. They reportedly passed it on to a second person in the same hotel.

“It’s very airborne,” Feigl-Ding noted. “The hotel guests were in different rooms across the hallway from each other. Environmental samples found the virus in 25 of 87 swabs across both rooms.”

“I think border and travel restrictions make sense. Especially since Hong Kong only caught the case because of a mandatory hotel quarantine. Which countries in the west still have that??? Almost none,” he added.

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about this variant,” said Richard Lessells, who is an infectious disease physician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, at a press briefing that was organized by South Africa’s health department on Thursday.

“The mutation profile gives us concern, but now we need to do the work to understand the significance of this variant and what it means for the response to the pandemic,” he remarked.

The announcement of the new variant caused Dow futures to drop by almost 800 points overnight, according to Market Watch.


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