Africa CDC: A new variant of the virus appears to be emerging in Nigeria

NAIROBI, Kenya: Another new variant of the coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, Africa’s top public health official said Thursday, but added further investigation was needed.

The finding could add new alarm to the pandemic after similar variants were announced in Britain and South Africa, leading to the rapid return of international travel restrictions and other measures during the major holiday season.

“ It’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa, ” the head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. He said the Nigeria CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Infectious Disease Genomics will analyze more samples.

“ Give us some time … it’s still very early, ” he said.

Identification of the apparent new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, Nkengasong said, but that and South Africa’s alert last week was enough to prompt an Africa CDC emergency meeting this week.

The variant in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, was found in two patient samples collected on August 3 and October 9 in Osun state, according to a job search document seen by the Associated Press.

Unlike the variant seen in the UK, “ we have not observed such a rapid increase in lineage in Nigeria and we have no evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to the increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in the scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria compared to the UK could imply reduced power to detect such changes, ” the paper says.

The news comes as infections rise again in parts of the African continent.

The new variant of the virus in South Africa is now the predominant one there, Nkengasong said, as confirmed infections in the country approach 1 million. While the variant transmits rapidly and viral loads are higher, it’s still unclear whether it leads to more serious disease, he said.

“ We believe this mutation will not have an effect ” on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent, he said of the South African variant.

The South African health minister announced an “ alarming spread rate ” in the country, with over 14,000 new cases confirmed and over 400 deaths reported on Wednesday. It was the largest increase in cases in a single day.

The country has more than 950,000 infections, and COVID-19 is “ inexorable, ” Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said.

“ At the moment there is no sign that we are reaching a peak. There is still rapid exponential growth, ” infectious disease specialist Richard Lessells told the AP. He said South Africa needs to double down on virus control efforts “ because many hospitals in many parts of the country are already extremely tense. ”

But there are few signs of the stiff restrictions that many African countries imposed at the start of the pandemic, which were seen as a severe pain to economies and millions of informal workers.

The African continent now has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3% of global cases. Infections across the continent have increased by 10.9% in the past four weeks, said the Africa CDC director, including a 52% increase in Nigeria and 40% in South Africa.

For the first time since the confirmation of the first sub-Saharan African virus case in February, Nigeria is in the spotlight as infections rise.

“ In recent weeks, we have had a huge increase in the number of samples for the reference laboratory (Nigeria CDC), ” CDC Director General Chikwe Ihekweazu tweeted Thursday. “ This has resulted in an unusual delay with testing, but we are working around the clock, ” with many coworkers interrupting their holidays and returning to work.

Nigeria now has more than 80,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. It saw a record number of cases daily on Dec.17 with more than 1,100 and there has been a “ rapid rise ” in infections in the past two weeks, Nigeria’s CDC said this week, citing the increase in travel and compliance with COVID-19 security measures ” as reasons.

The government has again imposed some restrictions on viruses, including limits on encounters, and recommended the closure of bars, clubs and similar venues.