Vaccine experts fighting to stay ahead of new coronavirus mutations have identified what could be the biggest threat yet.
The “variant of interest” emerged in Tanzania and was found in passengers from there in Angola.
It is feared it is the world's most mutated variant.
The multinational team mobilising to document the new variant say in a pre-print research paper that the coronavirus variant carries 34 mutations, reports TheSun.
That raises the spectre of new vaccine or antibody-resistant strains emerging in the near future.
Tanzania has a "largely undocumented epidemic" with "few public health measures in place” say the researchers.
Tanzania's government has taken few practical steps to combat the pandemic, with President John Magufuli coming out as one of the continent’s most prominent coronavirus sceptics.
Magufuli claimed that prayers and herbal-infused steam baths were the best way to combat the virus, shortly before his sudden death – reportedly from Covid-19 – at 61.
Dr William A. Haseltine told TheSun the Tanzanian variant is of "considerable concern” because its complex range of mutations makes it very different to the Covid-19 strains from which the current generation of vaccines has been developed.
"These mutations could increase the concentration of the virus in infected people, which may help prolong the infection and increase transmissibility,” he added.
Worrying new variants have also been observed in India and Brazil.
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Latest news from India shows the graphs of new positive tests, hospital admissions and deaths all as near-vertical spikes.
The country has recently been added to the UK’s ”red list” and flights from the subcontinent are set to be stopped within the next day or so.
A new Covid variant isolated in the Brazil shows 18 mutations – with 10 mutations in the all-important protein “spike” that allows it to infect a new cell.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that globally, cases are increasing at a rate not seen since the worst days of the pandemic.
WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro told the the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh last week that the emergence of new variants will be a regular occurrence for some time yet.
He said: "The pandemic is nowhere near finished. Each week we have seen four and a half million cases being reported and know those are an enormous underestimate."
"And," she added, "we are still seeing a really significant number of deaths – nearly three million.
"What I want to stress is that the pandemic is surging forward everywhere.”
Most recent figures available say there have been over 144,000,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with the number of deaths passing three million earlier this week.
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