- WHO tracks highly mutated Covid variant BA.2.86.
- Highly-mutated Covid-19 variant, tagged as BA.2.86, has been found in a handful of countries, including Israel, Denmark, the UK and the United States.
- WHO has classified BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring.”
- A global watch is on for Covid-19 variant, a subvariant of the Omicron.
Geneva: The World Health Organisation (WHO) and US health authorities said Friday they are closely monitoring a new variant of Covid-19, although the potential impact of BA.2.86 is currently unknown.
The WHO classified the new variant as one under surveillance “due to the large number (more than 30) of spike gene mutations it carries”, it wrote in a bulletin about the pandemic late Thursday.
BA.2.86 variant found in 4 countries
So far, the variant has only been detected in Israel, Denmark, the UK and the United States.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed it is also closely monitoring the variant, in a message on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“CDC is tracking a new lineage of the virus that causes COVID-19. This lineage is named BA.2.86, and has been detected in the United States, Denmark and Israel. CDC is gathering more information and will share more about this lineage as we learn it,” it said in a post.
There are only four known sequences of the variant, the WHO has said.
“The potential impact of the BA.2.86 mutations are presently unknown and undergoing careful assessment,” the WHO said.
Variants under monitoring
The WHO is currently monitoring upwards of 10 variants and their descent lineages.
Most countries that had established surveillance systems for the virus have since dismantled operations, determining it is no longer as severe and therefore could not justify the expense — a move the WHO has denounced, calling instead for “stronger” monitoring.
In the last reporting period between July 17 and August 13, more than 1.4 million new cases of Covid-19 were detected and more than 2,300 deaths reported, according to a WHO statement.
The case load represents a rise by 63 percent from the previous 28-day period while deaths were down by 56 percent.
As of August 13, there were more than 769 million cases of Covid-19 confirmed and more than 6.9 million deaths worldwide, although the real toll is expected to be much higher because many cases went undetected.
BA.2.86 has a number of mutations that are not found in other Omicron sub-variants. These mutations could make it more transmissible or evade the body’s immune response. However, more research is needed to understand the full implications of these mutations.
The BA.2.86 strain was first reported on July 24 and was classified as a ‘variant under monitoring’ on August 17.
Meanwhile, Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus on Friday said though COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency for the world, it is still a “global health threat” and a new variant of coronavirus is already under the scanner.
“Although COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, it remains a global health threat. WHO has recently classified a new variant with a large number of mutations. BA.2.86 variant is under monitoring at present, highlighting once again the need for all countries to maintain surveillance,” he said.
Concern: 36 mutations
According to a Reuters report, Dr S. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist, said the new variant comes with 36 mutations and “harkens back to an earlier branch” of the virus.
“My biggest concern would be that it could cause a bigger spike in cases than what we have seen in recent waves,” Dr Long was quoted as saying. “The boosters will still help you fight off Covid in general.”
BA.2.86 belongs to the B.1.1.529 lineage (Omicron variant), a variant of concern previously associated with increased transmissibility and potential resistance to vaccine-induced immunity.
Some of the mutations are located on the virus’s spike protein, a critical structure used by the virus to enter human cells.