Photo Credit: CDC Global - Africa / Wikimedia
Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong in a panel discussion at the Global Health Security Agenda Ministerial Meeting in Kampala, Uganda.

Just as scientists have come up with a vaccine to get the novel coronavirus under control, health officials in Britain last week announced the appearance of a new variant of the virus, B.1.1.7. Officials in South Africa did the same, warning that they were fighting a similar variant, albeit with some differences, 501.V2.

Governments around the world immediately began working on travel bans and other measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus, but it was too late.

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The UK variant has already been detected in five people in Israel, and in more than a dozen other nations around the world as well. Moreover, the UK variant has been detected in South Africa, and the South African variant has been identified in the UK.

On Thursday, a third variant of the coronavirus was announced. This one was identified in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 200 million people.

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, John Nkengasong told reporters on Thursday in an online news conference from Addis Ababa, “It’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa.”

The detection of the new variants in Nigeria and South Africa prompted an emergency meeting of the Africa CDC this week, Nkengasong said. He added the Nigeria CDC and the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases would analyze more samples.

“We haven’t observed such rapid rise of the lineage in Nigeria and do not have evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria versus the UK may imply a reduced power to detect such changes,” according to a working research paper cited by The Associated Press.

The paper said the Nigeria variant was detected in two patient samples collected August 3 and October 9 in Osun state, CP24 reported.

The African continent now has more than 2.5 million confirmed cases, or 3.3 percent of global cases. Infections across the continent have risen 10.9 percent over the past four weeks, the Africa CDC director said, including a 52 percent increase in Nigeria, which currently has more than 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a 40 percent increase in South Africa.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.