WHO, US health authorities tracking new COVID-19 variant

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — The World Health Organization and US health authorities said Friday they are closely monitoring a new variant of COVID-19, although the potential impact of BA.2.86 is currently unknown.

The WHO classified the new variant as one under surveillance “due to the large number (more than 30) of spike gene mutations it carries”, it wrote in a bulletin about the pandemic late Thursday.

So far, the variant has only been detected in Israel, Denmark, and the United States.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed it is also closely monitoring the variant, in a message on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

There are only four known sequences of the variant, the WHO has said.

“The potential impact of the BA.2.86 mutations is presently unknown and undergoing careful assessment,” the WHO said.

The WHO is currently monitoring upwards of 10 variants and their descent lineages.

Most countries that had established surveillance systems for the virus have since dismantled operations, determining it is no longer as severe and therefore could not justify the expense — a move the WHO has denounced, calling instead for stronger monitoring.

In the last reporting period between 17 July and 13 August, more than 1.4 million new cases of COVID-19 were detected and more than 2,300 deaths were reported, according to a WHO statement.

The caseload represents a rise of 63 percent from the previous 28-day period while deaths were down by 56 percent.

As of 13 August, there were more than 769 million cases of COVID-19 confirmed and more than 6.9 million deaths worldwide, although the real toll is expected to be much higher because many cases went undetected.


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