The World Health Organization has warned that mutant strain of the coronavirus first found in the UK has spread to 50 territories of the world, even as the similar South African-identified strain is now found in 20 territories.
The WHO also noted in a report that a third new coronavirus “variant of concern” found in Japan, may impact upon immune response and needs further investigation.
“The more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge.
“Since first being reported to the WHO on December 14, the British-identified variant VOC 202012/01 has been found in 50 countries, territories and areas,” the agency said.
Test results showed the age and sex distribution was similar to that of other circulating variants, while contact tracing data revealed “higher transmissibility (secondary attack rates) where the index case has the variant strain”.
The South African-identified variant 501Y.V2, first reported on December 18, has now been detected in 20 countries, territories, and areas.
“From preliminary and ongoing investigations in South Africa, it is possible that the 501Y.V2 variant is more transmissible than variants circulating in South Africa previously,” WHO noted.
“Moreover, while this new variant does not appear to cause more severe illness, the observed rapid increases in case numbers have placed health systems under pressure.”
The WHO argued that the geographical spread of both variants is likely underestimated, given a bias towards detection in countries with virus sequencing capacity.