The World Health Organization (WHO) has scheduled a special Friday meeting to discuss a newly emergent and "heavily mutated" variant of COVID-19 that could bypass immunity provided by vaccines and prior infections.
The meeting will discuss what the variant—referred to as B.1.1.529—could potentially mean for vaccines, testing, emerging symptoms and medicinal therapies. WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, made the announcement during a WHO livestream, CNBC reported.
If the WHO's virus evolution working group decides that the variant is one of interest that may become more widespread, the group will assign it a Greek name, Van Kerkhove added.
Ten cases involving the variant were detected in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong, The Guardian reported.
"We don't know very much about this [variant] yet," Van Kerkhove said. "What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves."
The variant spread rapidly through South Africa's Gauteng province, a landlocked region in the country's northeast. The province contains Pretoria, the country's executive capital city, as well as Johannesburg, the country's most populated city.
South African scientists detected more than 30 mutations to the variant's spike protein. The spike proteins on the surface of the virus enable it to attach to human cells, infecting them and allowing the virus to replicate through the body.