Another new coronavirus strain appears to emerge in Nigeria

Another new strain of coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria, Africa’s top public health official said on Thursday, but added that further investigation is needed.

The discovery may raise concerns about the announcement of similar variants in Britain and South Africa, which has quickly led to restrictions on international travel and other measures as the world enters a major holiday season.

“It is a separate strain from the UK and South Africa,” John Nkengasong, head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters. He said Nigeria’s CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in that country – the most populous in Africa – will analyze more samples.

“Give us some time. … It’s still too early, ”he said.

The warning about the apparent new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, he said, but that and South Africa’s warning at the end of last week were enough to motivate an emergency meeting of Africa’s CDC this week.

The Nigeria variant was found in two patient samples collected on August 3 and October 9 in Osun state, according to a research article published by the Associated Press.

Contrary to the variant seen in Great Britain, “we have not seen such a rapid increase in strain in Nigeria and we have no evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in the scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria compared to the UK may imply reduced power to detect these changes, ”says the newspaper.

The news comes at a time when infections are increasing again in parts of the African continent.

The new variant in South Africa is now the predominant one there, said Nkengasong, as confirmed infections in the country approach 1 million. Although the variant is transmitted quickly and the viral loads are higher, it is not yet clear whether it leads to a more serious case of COVID-19, he said.

Nkengasong also said that the South African strain “will have no effect” on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.

South Africa’s Health Minister on Wednesday announced an “alarming rate of spread” in his country, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed the previous day, including more than 400 deaths. It was the biggest increase in cases in a single day.

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

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 Nkengasong, including an increase of 52% in Nigeria and 40% in South Africa.

For the first time since confirmation of the first case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa in February, Nigeria is in the spotlight during this pandemic, as infections increase.

“In the past few weeks, we have seen a huge increase in the number of samples for [Nigeria CDC’s] reference laboratory, ”CDC director general Chikwe Ihekweazu tweeted on Thursday. “This has led to an unusual delay in testing, but we are working continuously”, with many colleagues shortening their vacation and going back to work.

Nigeria now has more than 80,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.