The World Health Organization is holding a special meeting Friday to discuss the new variant that has numerous mutations to its spike protein and is considered by some public health experts to be more lethal than the delta variant.
The B.1.1.529 variant, also known as omicron, has been detected in South Africa in small numbers.
“We don’t know very much about this yet,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, CNBC reported. “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.”
On Thursday, the U.K. banned travelers from six southern African countries, including South Africa. The U.S. essentially did the same Friday, saying its ban starts Monday.
South Africa Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said the new variant has spread rapidly through the Gauteng province, which contains Johannesburg, the country’s largest city. Phaahla said the variant has been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong, CNBC reported.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases continue to surge worldwide amid the holiday season. The WHO has reported hot spots in all regions — especially Europe, which WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week is the new “epicenter” of the pandemic.