The news comes after Britain 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 originated in Nigeria, says the head of the African Disease Control Agency and warns that further investigation was needed.
The discovery could add to the new alarm in the pandemic after similar variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus, which appear to be more contagious, were announced in the UK and South Africa, leading to the rapid return of international travel restrictions and other measures just when the world is entering a holiday season.
“It is a separate genus from Britain and South Africa,” John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told reporters on Thursday.
Nkengasong said the Nigeria CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in this country – Africa’s most populous – will analyze more samples.
“Give us some time … it’s still very early,” he said.
The alarm about the apparently new variant was based on two or three genetic sequences, Nkengasong said, but that and South Africa’s alarm at the end of last week was enough to provoke an emergency meeting for the Africa CDC this week.
The variant was found in two patient samples collected on August 3 and October 9 in Nigeria’s Osun state, according to a working document from the Associated Press news agency.
Contrary to the variant seen in the UK, “we have not observed such a rapid increase in the genus in Nigeria and have no evidence that the P681H variant contributes to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in the extent of genomic monitoring in Nigeria and the United Kingdom may indicate a reduced power to detect such changes, ”the paper said.
Waves in infections
The news came as cases rose in Nigeria and South Africa. Last week, Nigeria reported a 52 percent increase in cases and South Africa a 40 percent increase, Nkengasong said.
The new variant in South Africa is the dominant one there, Nkengasong said, as confirmed infections in the country approach one million.
While the variant transmits rapidly and viral load is higher, it is not yet clear if it leads to a more serious disease, he said.
“We believe this mutation will have no effect” on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the continent, he said of the South African variant.
South Africa’s health minister announced late Wednesday an “alarming spread” in this country, with more than 14,000 new cases confirmed on the last 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 “relentless,” Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said.
For the first time since the confirmation of sub-Saharan Africa’s first virus case in February, Nigeria is in the spotlight during this pandemic when infections rise.
“In recent weeks, we have had a huge increase in the number of samples for [Nigeria CDC] reference laboratory, ”CDC Director General Chikwe Ihekweazu said on Twitter on Thursday.
“This has led to an unusual delay in testing, but we work around the clock,” with many colleagues interrupting their holidays and returning 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.