THE Africa Centre for Disease Control (ACDC) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have launched an investigation into the nature of the new variant of COVID-19 found in Nigeria.
The variant was found in two patients’ samples collected on August 3 and October 9, according to Associated Press (AP) report quoted by Al-Jazeera on Thursday.
The United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa are known to have new strains that are similar and believed to be more contagious as the second wave of the virus is spreading fast.
“It’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa,” John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told reporters on Thursday in an online conference.
Nkengasong said the ACDC and the NCDC will be analysing more samples.
“Give us some time … it’s still very early,” he said.
Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said on Thursday at the Presidential Task Force (PTF) briefing, that sequencing in Nigeria did not find the variant said to be deadlier than the original strain of the virus.
He said: “Over the last few days, we have monitored reports of the COVID-19 mutating in the UK, South Africa, and some other countries but it is important to establish some facts about what we know, what we do not know, and what we are willing to learn over the next few years.
“The most important fact to put out there to calm everybody’s nerves is that viruses mutate all the time.
“We haven’t found that UK COVID-19 strain, but it is not something we have been looking for on the go. To find that, you have to do sequencing. And our focus has not been on sequencing. We did some sequencing in the past but we haven’t found that.”
”We only found two similar but not the same. However, we are doing more sequencing. Is it possible that they are circulating? Yes. This is because there are a lot of travels between the UK and Nigeria.”
The NCDC chief said the agency would collaborate with stakeholders to collect new COVID-19 samples for sequencing in order to determine their variant.
Ihekweazu added: “This is an ongoing work. It cannot happen in a hurry. It is very complex. Sequencing is not a straight-forward business which is why we have only a few centres that are able to do it.”
The ACDC said it had opened investigation through its Institute for Pathogen Genomics to determine if the new variant is more infectious, more transmissible or has the potential to cause more severe illnesses.
It added that researches are ongoing to determine the impact of mutation of the virus on existing diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
“This virus strain is different from the one in the UK. It’s called lineages. The lineages are different; the mutations are similar. And we’re now beginning to hear reports that this same lineage is – the South African lineage is being picked up in the UK. We also know that similar lineages have been reported in Nigeria this week by Professor Christian Happi’s group.
Nkengasong said: “On December 21, the Africa CDC issued a statement on a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which was reported recently in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The agency had said the variant was first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay and ‘has rapidly spread through the Eastern and Western Capes, as well as KwaZulu-Natal’.
“This new variant is defined by multiple non-synonymous mutations in the spike (S) protein. Three of these mutations are located on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein – the most notable being the N501Y mutation on the receptor binding motif that binds to the human Angiotensin Converting Enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptor.
“In terms of how dangerous this virus is, this is what we know about the virus so far: it transmits quickly which is why it is responsible for a vast majority of the second wave in South Africa; the viral load is higher.
“So, I think it is something that is evolving and we’ll continue to track. We don’t know the extent of spread across the continent, but as I indicated, one thing you should be absolutely sure of is that the Africa CDC pathogen genomic institute which was launched last year will go into full swing using the centres of excellence to begin to characterize these viruses and understand the epidemiology.”