The news comes after the UK and South Africa report new variants of the virus that appear to be more contagious, leading to new travel restrictions.
Another new variant of the new coronavirus appears to have appeared in Nigeria, said the head of the African disease control body, warning that further investigation is needed.
The discovery could add new alarm to the pandemic after similar variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were announced in the UK and South Africa, which appear to be more contagious, leading to a rapid return to international travel restrictions and other measures as the world enters in the holiday season.
“It is a separate 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 that the Nigerian CDC and the African Center of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Diseases in that country – the most populous – will analyze more samples.
“Give us time … it’s still very early,” he said.
The warning of an obvious new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, Nkengasong said, but that warning from South Africa late last week was enough for 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 the Nigerian state of Osun, according to a working research paper seen by the Associated Press news agency.
Unlike the variant seen in the UK, “we have not noticed such a rapid increase in vines in Nigeria and we have no evidence to suggest that variant P681H contributes to increased virus transmission in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in the scope of genomic surveillance in Nigeria compared to the United Kingdom may mean a reduced power to detect such changes, “the paper said.
Sudden increase in infection
The news arrived when cases rose sharply in Nigeria and South Africa. Over the past week, Nigeria has seen a 52 percent increase in cases and South Africa a 40 percent increase, Nkengasong said.
The new variant in South Africa is dominant there, Nkengasong said, because the confirmed infections in the country are approaching one million.
Although the variant is transmitted quickly, and the viral load is higher, it is not yet clear whether it leads to a more serious disease, he said.
“We believe this mutation will have no effect” on the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine to the continent, he said for the South African variant.
South Africa’s health minister announced a “alarming rate of spread” in the country late Wednesday, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed the previous day, including more than 400 deaths.
That was the biggest one-day increase in cases.
The country has more than 950,000 infections, and COVID-19 is “relentless,” said Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize.
For the first time since the confirmation of the first case of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa in February, Nigeria is in the spotlight during this pandemic as infections increase.
“In recent weeks, we have had a huge increase in the number of samples [Nigeria CDC] reference laboratory, ”CDC CEO Chikwe Ihekweazu said on Twitter on Thursday.
“This has led to an unusual delay with testing, but we work day and night,” with many colleagues who shortened their vacation and returned to work.
Nigeria has more than 80,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The African continent has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3 percent of global cases.