New corona variant surfaced in Belgium, WHO stresses lack of knowledge

After Israel, the new coronavirus variant from South Africa has now also been found in Belgium. According to the VRT, it is about a thirtysomething who came back from vacation from Egypt. The infected person had not been vaccinated and had not contracted COVID-19 before, says Belgian Health Minister Vanderbroucke.

It is the first detected infection with the new virus variant in Europe. Scientists are concerned about the so-called B.1.1.529 variant, because there is evidence that it is more contagious than the now dominant delta variant.

But, according to experts from the World Health Organization, very little is known about the variant, emphasized WHO epidemiologist Van Kerkhove in a livestream with journalists. โ€œWhat we do know is that B.1.1,529 has a large number of mutations and that this can have consequences for how the virus behaves.โ€

May take weeks

What that means for the efficacy of the current corona vaccines, for example, will only become clear in a few weeks, according to her. As far as we know, only about a hundred samples of the variant are analyzed worldwide. A team of WHO experts are discussing today in Geneva whether B.1.1.529 will be officially labeled as a worrying variant.

According to pharmaceutical company BioNTech, it takes about two weeks to determine whether their corona vaccine, created in collaboration with Pfizer, can withstand the new mutation. From lab tests, it will be clear whether the vaccine needs to be adjusted.

Africa, Asia, Middle East and Europe

South African scientists fear that the mutation is transferable faster than the delta variant. The new variant has so far been found in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. In the last three countries, it is about imported infections.

The corona patient in Israel was from Malawi, the two patients in Hong Kong came from South Africa. According to the Israeli authorities, two more air passengers may be infected with the new variant. This pair is in quarantine pending the test result.

Israeli Prime Minister Bennett is going to table with experts for an action plan, now that B.1.1,529 has reached his country. He says Israel is balancing โ€œon the verge of a state of emergencyโ€.

WHO against rapid entry bans

Yesterday, Israel decided to introduce an entry ban for a number of countries in the south of Africa. Today, those restrictions have been extended to the entire continent, apart from the North African countries.

A number of European countries, including the Netherlands, have also introduced a flight ban for a group of Southern African countries. But WHO is opposed to introducing such measures and advocates a scientifically based approach.

According to Minister De Jonge and his German colleague, the change has not yet been established in the Netherlands or Germany. The French government also says that no cases have surfaced there.

โ€œThis is the most notable variation weve come across so far,โ€ said Deputy Chief Jenny Harries of the British Medical Service in a statement. According to her, thorough research should be done as soon as possible. The United Kingdom came out yesterday with an entry ban for a number of African countries, hoping to keep the variant out.

But according to the South African Foreign Minister, the British entry ban is a hasty decision. The minister fears the economic damage and points out that much is still unclear about B.1.1.529.

โ€œHolding back very difficultโ€

The RIVM fears that it will be difficult to keep the mutation outside the national borders. So far, the spread of new variants has almost never been limited to a certain area. โ€œWhat we can do is slow down as much as possible,โ€ says virologist Chantal Reusken to the ANP.