WHO warns new Covid variants are ‘highly problematic’ and could further stress hospitals

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland.

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

New, more contagious mutated variants of the coronavirus are “highly problematic” and could cause more cases and hospitalizations if the virus’ spread isn’t immediately suppressed, the head of the World Health Organization said on Monday.

The global health agency was alerted over the weekend of a new Covid-19 strain discovered in Japan, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing. On Sunday, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases said it discovered a new coronavirus variant in four travelers arriving from Brazil.

The variant appears to have some of the same mutations as other strains discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa, the institute said. Those virus mutations, while highly infectious, don’t appear to make people more ill from the virus, health experts have said.

Japan’s infectious disease institute said it’s difficult to immediately determine how infectious the new strain is and the effectiveness of vaccines against it.

As viruses spread, they’re expected to mutate over time as the spikes on their surfaces change, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. However, the CDC warns that it’s not yet known how widespread the new mutations are.

“The more the virus spreads, the higher the chance of new changes to the virus,” Tedros said at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, noting that the new variants appear to be more contagious than previous strains.

“This can drive a surge of cases and hospitalizations, which is highly problematic for health workers and hospitals already close to breaking point. This is especially true where public health and social measures have already broken down,” Tedros said.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.


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