South Africa’s government is considering new public-health restrictions to contain a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus that scientists say has a high number of mutations that may make it more transmissible and allow it to evade some of the immune responses triggered by previous infection or vaccination. From a report: The warning from the South African scientists and the Health Ministry, issued in a hastily called news briefing Thursday, prompted the World Health Organization to call a meeting of experts for Friday to discuss whether to declare the new strain a “variant of concern.” The WHO uses this label for virus strains that have been proven to be more contagious, lead to more serious illness or decrease the effectiveness of public-health measures, tests, treatments or vaccines. Other variants of concern include the Delta variant that is now dominant world-wide and the Alpha variant that drove a deadly wave of infections across Europe and the U.S. last winter and spring. While the scientists said they were still studying the exact combination of mutations of the new variant — currently dubbed B.1.1.529 — and how they affect the virus, its discovery underlines how changes to the virus’s genome continue to pose a risk to the world’s emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic.
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