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Another new coronavirus strain has apparently emerged in Nigeria, experts say

A baby is dressed in a Santa hat at a shopping mall in Johannesburg, South Africa
A baby is dressed in a Santa hat at a shopping mall in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday.
(Denis Farrell / Associated Press)

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

The discovery could add to the concern over the announcement of similar variants in Britain and South Africa, which led swiftly to international travel restrictions and other measures just as the world enters a major holiday season.

“It’s a separate lineage from the U.K. and South Africa,” John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters. He said the Nigeria CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in that country — Africa’s most populous — will be analyzing more samples.

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

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

The Nigeria variant was found in two patient samples collected Aug. 3 and Oct. 9 in Osun state, according to a working research paper seen by the Associated Press.

Gov. Newsom says he’s been discussing new protocols with airlines and others to keep a new, more contagious strain of coronavirus out of California.

Unlike the variant seen in Britain, “we haven’t observed such rapid rise of the lineage in Nigeria and do not have evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria vs. the U.K. may imply a reduced power to detect such changes,” the paper says.

The news comes as infections surge again in parts of the African continent.

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

Nkengasong also said the South Africa strain “will not have an effect” on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.

Poor countries face long waits for injections as the U.S. and others buy up nearly all the global supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

South Africa’s health minister late Wednesday announced an “alarming rate of spread” in his country, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed in the past day, including more than 400 deaths. It was the largest single-day increase in cases.

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

The African continent now has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3% of global cases. Infections across the continent have risen 10.9% over the past four weeks, Nkengasong said, including a 52% increase in Nigeria and 40% increase in South Africa.

For the first time since confirming sub-Saharan Africa’s first coronavirus case in February, Nigeria is in the spotlight during this pandemic as infections surge.

“Over recent weeks, we’ve had a huge increase in number of samples to [Nigeria CDC’s] reference lab,” the CDC director-general Chikwe Ihekweazu tweeted Thursday. “This has led to an unusual delay with testing, but we’re working around the clock,” with many colleagues cutting short their holidays and returning to work.

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


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