The World Health Organisation underlined the importance of suppressing transmission of the coronavirus within the community, stressing that the more it is allowed to spread, the more the virus can mutate.
Delivering his brief on Monday, the WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that there have been reports of new variants of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality.
The variant was identified through viral genomic sequencing and is referred to as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 (Variant Under Investigation, year 2020, month 12, variant 01).
Investigations are ongoing to determine if this variant is associated with any changes in the severity of symptoms, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.
It is natural for viruses to mutate over time, he remarked adding that the WHO is working with scientists to understand how these genetic changes affect how the virus behaves.
The Director General urged all governments and all people to take the necessary precautions to limit transmission.
The new VUI-202012/01 variant has been identified in several countries including Australia, Denmark, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands.
Preliminary reports by the UK are that this variant is more transmissible than previous circulating viruses, with an estimated increase of between 40% and 70% in transmissibility (adding 0.4 to the basic reproduction number R0, bringing it to a range of 1.5 to 1.7).
Laboratory studies are ongoing to determine whether these variant viruses have different biological properties or alter vaccine efficacy. There is not enough information at present to determine if this variant is associated with any change in severity of clinical disease, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.
Over the past two days various countries around the world have restricted travel to and from Britain amid concerns about the new strains of coronavirus.
As from Tuesday, Malta banned flights to and from Britain until further notice.
Other countries have taken different measures including France which banned all passenger and cargo traffic from the UK for 48 hours. The ban is set to end at midnight Tuesday and applies to flights and traffic via the tunnel beneath the English Channel.
Switzerland has banned foreign nationals arriving from the UK and South Africa and ordered those who arrived since December 14 to go into quarantine.
Italy suspended flights from and to Britain until January 6. The move also forbids entrance into Italy by anyone who has transited through Britain in the last 14 days.
COVAX Facility secures access to nearly two billion doses
The COVAX Facility which is backed by 190 countries and economies has secured access to nearly two billion doses of promising vaccine candidates.
In early 2021, US$ 4.6 billions in additional funding will be needed to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for at least 20% of the population of all low and lower-middle income countries.
This would ensure health workers and those at highest risk of severe disease are vaccinated, which is the fastest way to stabilise health systems and economies and stimulate a truly global recovery.
The hundred-hundred initiative of WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank aims to support 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans within 100 days for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools.
89 countries have already completed the assessments and our teams are working around the clock to ensure that governments and health systems are ready for global vaccine rollout.
WHO released a new training course for health workers on Covid-19 vaccination, which is available at OpenWHO.org.
“Vaccines will help to end the pandemic, but the effects of COVID-19 will continue to be felt for many years to come,” the WHO director general said, adding that the pandemic exploited and exacerbated the vulnerabilities and inequalities of our world.