Chinese expert eases fears over new variant detected in France; WHO says it's monitoring
Published: Jan 06, 2022 10:05 PM
A man gets a nasal swap at a mobile COVID-19 testing site at the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on January 5, 2022. Photo: VCG

A man gets a nasal swap at a mobile COVID-19 testing site at the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on January 5, 2022. Photo: VCG

Although a new variant of COVID-19, known as B.1.640.2 or the "IHU variant," which has been detected in France with 46 mutations and 37 deletions, raised some concerns over its transmission capacity as well as its potential threat, a Chinese expert believes that there is no need to panic while the World Health Organization told the Global Times that the variant is being monitored with little circulation.

In a preprint which has not been peer-reviewed published on medRxiv on December 29, 2021, researchers from IHU Méditerranée Infection in France said that a new variant was first detected from a patient who returned from Cameroon. The new variant has infected 12 people in southeastern France, according to the research. 

The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) discussed the available information about the B.1.640.2 variant,including the preprint data,and its circulation in France and globally, and has decided to keep this as a "variant under monitoring,"  WHO said in a statement sent to the Global Times on Thursday.

"France has some but little circulation and other counties have very little to no circulation," WHO said. The group will continue to track and monitor this and all other variants, according to the WHO statement.

Based on the study, the spike protein mutations N501Y and E484K which have been found in the Omicron variant were also detected in the new variant. The mutations of the variant are more than those of Omicron, media reported.

There is no need to over-interpret the new variant, Chinese top respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan told media on Thursday. The mutations of the variant are more than those of Omicron, which theoretically means its ability to evade immunity offered by vaccines and the resistance to antibodies would probably be stronger, Zhong said.

But it still takes time to observe the new variant, including whether its transmissibility will become dominant and the pathogenicity rate, Zhong said.

Western media outlets including CBS reported that WHO has "downplayed concerns" over the variant, and an official from WHO noted that it hadn't proved much of a threat.

Also, WHO officials warned a surge in infections globally might increase the risk of virus mutations and the emergence of more dangerous variants.

Europe has recorded over 100 million COVID-19 cases, with more than 5 million new cases reported in the last week of December 2021 alone. 

It is still too early to draw any conclusions over how transmissible or virulent this new variant is, Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Yang said there's no need to panic as wide vaccinations will help China build an immune barrier against the virus, noting that the virus mutates naturally with its spread globally. 

More than 2.8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in the Chinese mainland as of Wednesday, and a stringent anti-pandemic strategy remains in place, media reported.

Yang was optimistic in the future anti-epidemic situation as the mutations of the new variant are not too much, as the world is also making efforts to build an immune protection barrier against COVID-19. 

But Yang warned that residents should remain cautious in daily activities as the virus spreads more easily in winter.