WHO holds special session over concerns about the new COVID-19 variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a special session amid concerns about a new variant of COVID-19 discovered in South Africa, officials said Thursday.

“Our virus development technical advisory group is discussing this with our colleagues in South Africa,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 Technical Lead for WHO, during a livestream question and answer session on Thursday.

“We’ll meet again tomorrow too – we’re calling a special meeting to discuss this, not to sound the alarm, but just because we have this system. We can bring these scientists together and discuss ‘what does this mean?’ and also schedule how long it will be before we get these responses, ”she added.

She said officials know that the new variant, known as B.1.1.529, has many mutations, but that they are still trying to learn more about the variant. She stated that if officials believe it is a worrying variant, they will continue to monitor it and assign it a Greek name.

Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s Emergency Health Program, warned that people would have “knee-jerking reactions” to the information reported from South Africa and praised the country for the transparency of the results.

Ryan said it was important that “we continue to focus on understanding and characterizing the problem and not penalizing countries for doing excellent research and actually being open and transparent about what they see and find,” said Ryan Ryan.

However, the UK has already put half a dozen nations on its red travel list, which means flights from those areas are now banned, The Guardian reported. The countries affected include South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

According to the latest travel advice from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, South Africa, Eswatini and Zimbabwe are classified as Level 1 or “COVID-19 low”. Namibia is classified as level 2 or “COVID-19 moderate”. Lesotho is rated Level 3 or “COVID-19 High” and Botswana is rated Level 4 or “COVID-19 Very High”.

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