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WHO says no need for major alarm over new coronavirus strain

Highly infectious variant is a normal part of pandemic's evolution and new tools to track virus are working

GENEVA/ZURICH: The World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioned against major alarm over a new highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain, saying this was a normal part of a pandemic's evolution.

WHO officials even put a positive light on the discovery of the new strain that prompted a slew of alarmed countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain, saying new tools to track the virus are working.

"We have to find a balance. It is very important to have transparency, it is very important to tell the public the way it is, but it is also important to get across that this is a normal part of virus evolution," WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said.

"Being able to track a virus this closely, this carefully, this scientifically in real time is a real positive development for global public health, and the countries doing this type of surveillance should be commended."

Citing data from Britain, WHO officials said they had no evidence that the variant made people sicker or was more deadly than existing strains of Covid-19, although it did seem to spread more easily.

WHO said vaccines should handle the new variants as well, although checks were under way to ensure this was the case.

The co-founder of BioNTech said yesterday it was "highly likely" that its vaccine developed with Pfizer works against the mutated strain detected in Britain, but it could also adapt the vaccine if necessary in six weeks.

IMMUNE RESPONSE

"Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant," said Dr Ugur Sahin.

But if needed, "in principle the beauty of the messenger technology is that we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation - we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks".

Dr Sahin said the variant detected in Britain has nine mutations, rather than just one as is usually common.

But he was confident the vaccine would be efficient because it "contains more than 1,000 amino acids, and only nine of them have changed, so that means 99 per cent of the protein is still the same".

Moderna, also expects immunity from its vaccine to protect against the variants and is performing more tests in the coming weeks to confirm, the company told CNN.- REUTERS

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