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France warns on new coronavirus variant

• Variant linked to travellers from Cameroun
• U.S. sets global record, announces over one million COVID-19 cases in single day
• WHO says more evidence shows Omicron causes milder symptoms
• COVID-19 has come to stay like yearly flu, Osibogun, Ashiru, Agwale say

As the world grapples with the highly mutated Omicron variant of COVID-19, a new Coronavirus variant called IHU has emerged in France. Scientists identified the new strain, B.1.640.2, at the institute IHU Méditerranée Infection in Marseille.

This is coming some days after Israel reported its first case of rare double infection of COVID and Influenza, Flurona. France has already reported at least 12 cases of this variant, which researchers believe contains 46 mutations, more than Omicron. The new variant has been associated with Cameroun.

But there is little sign that it is outmatching the dominant Omicron variant, which now makes up more than 60 per cent of cases in France.

It is also yet to be spotted in other countries or labelled a variant under investigation by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Prof. Philippe Colson, who heads the unit that discovered the strain, said: “We indeed have several cases of this new variant in the Marseille geographical area. We named it ‘variant IHU’. Two new genomes have just been submitted.”

It comes after French health minister Olivier Veran said that the country expects to see even higher daily counts of new COVID-19 infections.

Last week, France saw four consecutive days of record-breaking new cases above 200,000. Veran had added that the number might go as high as 300,000 to 400,000 in the coming days.

“I said that maybe – maybe – this is the last wave, meaning that considering the number of infections in our country and around the world, it’s probable that we will have developed a form of immunity, either through vaccination or through getting infected, or both,” he said.

U.S. epidemiologist and health economist, Eric Feigl-Ding, who rung the bell about the variant, said: ‘’These observations show once again the unpredictability of the emergence of new #SARSCoV2 variants and they exemplify the difficulty to control such introduction and subsequent spread.

“However, it does not mean they will be more dangerous. What makes a variant more dangerous is its ability to multiply because of the number of mutations it has in relation to the original virus.

“This is when it becomes a variant of concern like Omicron, which is more contagious and could evade immunity. It remains to be seen in which category this new variant will fall,” he said.

Researchers noted that it is too early to speculate on how this variant behaves as far as infection and protection from vaccines is concerned.

According to the researchers, the index (first) case was an adult diagnosed positive in mid-November last year.
MANY countries are currently experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in November last year. Since then, the variant of concern has spread to over 100 countries.

The United States recorded more than one million cases on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There were 1,080,211 new cases in the country, a global record, with the number of cases doubling on the previous week.  

It comes a day after top U.S. pandemic advisor, Anthony Fauci, said the country was experiencing “almost a vertical increase” in cases, adding that the peak may be only weeks away.

Fauci said the experience of South Africa, where the strain was first detected in late November and peaked quickly, then subsided nearly as speedily, offered some hope.

Rates of death and hospitalisation in the U.S. have been far lower in recent weeks than during previous surges. With 9,382 deaths over the past seven days, the nation’s death toll has fallen by 10 per cent, week on week.

COVID-19 has killed at least 5,441,446 people globally since the outbreak in December 2019, according to an AFP tally. Taking into account excess mortality linked to the pandemic, WHO estimates the overall death toll could be two to three times higher.

More evidence is emerging that the Omicron variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants, WHO official said yesterday.

“We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike the other ones, that could cause severe pneumonia,” WHO Incident Manager, Abdi Mahamud, said, adding that it could be “good news.”

A PUBLIC health physician and former Chief Medical Director, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Prof. Akin Osibogun, told The Guardian that COVID-19 has come to stay and the world and indeed Nigeria must learn to live with it.

“The situation is like that of yearly flu epidemic in Europe and the United States. They take yearly vaccination to protect against the flu. We must prepare for this kind of situation because COVID-19 has come to stay,” he said.

Osibogun noted that since the world was not able to contain the virus from leaving China and it has spread to the whole world, it would continue to mutate. He, however, said vaccinating more than 70 per cent of the population would help stop the mutation and the virus.

President, Academy of Medical Specialties of Nigeria (AMSN), Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, said the pandemic has grown in usual proportions, just as inadequate global vaccination rollout has created opportunities for several mutations, hence the numerous variants being reported.

On when the world will see an end to the pandemic, he said: “There are several schools of thoughts. Some believe we may see the peak of the pandemic within a couple of months and from mid-year, situation would start getting better. Some are projecting that it will take the end of 2022 before things improve. The above projections are dependent on the ability of each region of the continent to roll out rapid vaccine production and rapid vaccination and the complete acceptance of vaccination.”

On what measures Nigerian authorities should take to protect the country effectively in the light of vaccine phobia and low vaccination rate, Ashiru said it is difficult to access the measures, although there is a concerted effort from the African Union.

A virologist and vaccinologist, Dr. Simon Agwale, said: “Preliminary reports indicated that majority of the victims were hospitalised and this means that this new variant, IHU, may likely cause more hospitalisations than the Omicron variant. It is, however, the nature of viruses to continue to mutate and the emergence of new variants may likely continue until we are able to stop transmission by vaccinating most of the world population at the same time.”

Agwale said Nigeria needed to strengthen her research capacity, especially to be able to monitor the emergence and transmission of new variants and to understand their responses to the various vaccines that are currently being administered in the country.

“This is critical, because every successful health intervention will be driven by evidence and not guess work,” he said.

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