The most mutated variant of the coronavirus so far has been found in travelers from Tanzania, prompting scientists to call for increased surveillance in a country that has largely ignored the pandemic.
TO The report presented to the World Health Organization and regional bodies shows that the strain has 10 more mutations than those found in any other version, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of Krisp, a scientific institute that conducts genetic testing in 10 African nations. Krisp, who discovered a new strain in South Africa last year that fueled a resurgence of infections in the country, found the new variant in travelers arriving in Angola from Tanzania.
“It is potentially of interest,” de Oliveira said in an interview on Friday.
Variants of the coronavirus have caused worldwide concern as, for example, the first identified in South Africa known as 501Y.V2 has been shown to be more infectious and more easily evade some vaccines. Still, the version found in three Tanzanian travelers has yet to be worked on to determine whether it is more infectious or severe than other strains.
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The newly discovered version will be grown in Krisp’s labs and an attempt will be made to determine how easily it evades antibodies, de Oliveira said. The variant comes from a lineage of the virus first identified in China, while many others have roots in Europe.
Under the recently deceased President John Magufuli, Tanzania stopped publishing data on coronavirus infections and opened up the economy, including the resort island of Zanzibar, which attracts international tourists. Magufuli’s stance drew criticism from neighbors and the WHO, as anecdotal evidence suggests that many people in the country have contracted the disease.
His successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has yet to indicate whether he will change his policies.
“This can be a big wake-up call for Tanzania,” de Oliveira said.
– With assistance from Janice Kew