NAIROBI (Reuters) -Another new variant of the novel coronavirus seems to have emerged in Nigeria, the head of Africa’s disease control body said on Thursday, cautioning more investigation was needed.
The news comes after Britain and South Africa both reported new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that appear to be more contagious, leading to new travel restrictions and turmoil in markets.
“It’s a separate lineage from the UK and the South African lineages,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told an online news conference from Addis Ababa.
The detection of the new variants in Nigeria and South Africa prompted an emergency meeting of the Africa CDC this week, Nkengasong said.
The news comes as cases are surging in both Nigeria and South Africa. In the past week, Nigeria reported a 52% increase in cases and South Africa a 40% increase, Nkengasong said.
He said there was no evidence the new variant was contributing to increased transmission in Nigeria, but cautioned the country does less genomic surveillance than Britain.
The Nigeria CDC and the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Nigeria will study more samples, Nkengasong said.
“Give us some time … it’s still very early”, he said, in response to questions about the variant.
Nigeria’s principal COVID-19 investigator has just released publicly the genomic sequences of the new variant, he added.
Nigeria’s CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Nkengasong’s remarks.
“Over recent weeks, we’ve had a huge increase in number of samples to (the Nigerian CDC’s) reference lab,” the Nigeria CDC’s director general Chikwe Ihekweazu tweeted on Thursday.
“This has led to an unusual delay with testing, but we’re working round the clock.”
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 200 million people, has seen fewer coronavirus cases than many others on the continent. Total cases crept past 80,000 on Wednesday. Daily recorded cases exceeded 1,000 for the first time this month.
Africa has reported more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases, making up 3.3% of global cases, according to the Africa CDC.
The new, faster-spreading variant that South Africa detected on Dec. 18 is now the predominant one there, Nkengasong said, although – as with the new variant in Britain – there is no evidence that it leads to a more severe disease.
The rate of coronavirus infections in South Africa will soon surpass the peak hit in the first wave earlier in the year, its health ministry said on Wednesday.
Nkengasong said the Africa CDC did not believe the mutation in South Africa will affect deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines on the continent.