WHO warns about reinfection from new COVID variants
Soumya Swaminathan, a chief scientist at the WHO, was quoted saying that people have become reinfected with new strains of the virus. To date, more than 100,000,000 cases of the virus have been reported around the world. More than 2,000,000 people have died after contracting the virus globally.
Addressing the WHO, Ms Swaminathan said: “We are now getting reports of people getting reinfected with the new variant of the virus and there has been some initial reports from South Africa suggesting that people who have had prior infection could get infected again.”
There are currently three variants of concern in the UK originating from South Africa, Brazil and one first identified in Kent.
The one found in Kent could become the world’s dominant strain, according to the head of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme.
Professor Sharon Peacock said: “Once we get on top of [the virus] or it mutates itself out of being virulent – causing disease – then we can stop worrying about it.
WHO warns people are being reinfected with new variants
Chinese President Xi Jinping
“But I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years.
“We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view.”
This warning comes as the WHO’s visit to China has so far produced no answers to key questions about how the virus originated and made the jump to humans.
During a press briefing earlier this week from Wuhan, China, members of the WHO teams reported conclusions following their month-long investigation into the origin of the virus.
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However, scientists have given a mixed assessment of the findings.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University, said: “There are still major stones that need to be unturned, because any investigation into virus origins won’t be accomplished in two weeks.
“But what’s important is that this lays the groundwork for a longer investigation in collaboration with the Chinese government.”
David Robertson, a virologist at the University of Glasgow, added: “It seems the WHO team and their Chinese collaborators are taking a measured approached, weighing the available data appropriately and talking to the right people.”
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The Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China has collected extensive virus samples, which led to allegations it may have caused the original outbreak of the virus.
WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said: “Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targetted research.
“However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population.”
The WHO’s research team intended to discover the origins of the virus, which is believed to have originated in bats before being passed to humans through another animal.
Kent variant could be the most dominant in the world
Mr Embarek said transmission through the trade in frozen products was also a possibility.
Dr Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO team, said the focus on the origins of the virus could be shifted to South East Asia
He told the BBC: “We’ve done a lot of work in China and if you map that back it starts to point towards the border and we know that there is very little surveillance on the other side in the whole region of South East Asia.
“China is a very big place and South East Asia is a very big place.
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“The supply chains to the Huanan seafood market were extensive, they were coming in from other countries, they were coming in from various parts of China, so to really trace that back it’s going to take some work.”
Liang Wannian, an expert with China’s Health Commission, said Covid-19 could have been in other regions before it was detected in Wuhan.
This first cases of the virus were reported as ‘viral pneumonia’ in Wuhan back in 2019.