The news comes after the UK and South Africa reported new variants of the virus that appear to be more contagious, leading to new travel restrictions.
Another new variant of the novel coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, the head of the Africa disease control body said, warning that more investigation was needed.
The discovery could add to new alarm in the pandemic after similar variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that appear to be more contagious were announced in the UK and South Africa, prompting the rapid return of restrictions on international travel and other measures just as the world enters a holiday season.
“It’s a distinct lineage from the UK and South Africa,” John Nkengasong, head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told reporters on Thursday.
Nkengasong said Nigeria’s CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Infectious Disease Genomics in that country – Africa’s most populous – will analyze more samples.
“Give us some time… it’s still very early,” he said.
The alert over the apparent new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, Nkengasong said, but that and South Africa’s alert late last week were enough to trigger an emergency meeting of the African CDC this week.
The variant was found in two patient samples collected on August 3 and October 9 in Nigeria’s Osun state, according to a working research paper viewed by the Associated Press news agency.
Unlike the variant seen in the UK, “we have not seen such a rapid rise in the lineage in Nigeria and we have no evidence that the P681H variant contributes to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria compared to the UK may imply reduced power to detect such changes, ”the newspaper said.
Increase in infections
The news came as cases increased in Nigeria and South Africa. Last week Nigeria reported a 52 percent increase in cases and South Africa a 40 percent increase, Nkengasong said.
The new variant in South Africa is the most predominant there, Nkengasong said, as confirmed infections in the country approach one million.
While the variant is transmitted quickly and viral loads are higher, it is not yet clear whether this leads to more serious illness, he said.
“We believe this mutation will not have an effect” on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent, he said of the South African variant.
The South African Minister of Health announced Wednesday evening an “alarming rate of spread” in this country, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed in the last day, including more than 400 deaths.
This was the largest increase in cases in a day.
The country has over 950,000 infections and COVID-19 is “relentless,” said Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize.
For the first time since the first case of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa was confirmed in February, Nigeria is in the spotlight during this pandemic as infections increase.
“In recent weeks, we have had a considerable increase in the number of samples to [Nigeria CDC] reference laboratory, ”CDC Director General Chikwe Ihekweazu said on Twitter on Thursday.
“This has resulted in an unusual delay in testing, but we are working around the clock,” with many colleagues interrupting their vacations and returning to work.
Nigeria has more than 80,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
The African continent has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3% of global cases.