The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is studying variants of the coronavirus found in Britain and South Africa, adding there is no evidence they are deadlier or more severe than any more common strains, and the best thing people can do is work to suppress transmission.
During the agency’s regular briefing at its Geneva headquarters, officials said they continue to receive data about the variants and there are reports from Britain the new strain there can be transmitted more easily.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters they are working with scientists to understand how these genetic changes affect the way the virus behaves. He stressed this is nothing new, saying, “Viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected.”
Tedros said suppressing the spread of the virus as quickly as possible can help the most.
“The more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change,” he said, adding that all governments and citizens should take all necessary precautions to limit transmission.
WHO technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove was quick to add there is no link between the variant in South Africa and the one in Britain and that they are different. She said they have just shown up at the same time.
What has not changed, Van Kerkhove said, is the method by which the virus spreads, and social distancing is still the best way to avoid it.
“The virus spreads between people who are in close contact with another,” she said. “That’s still the same. There are detailed investigations that are under way, and we will let you know if anything in that space changes. But the virus likes people who are in close contact with one another.”
Meanwhile, Michael Ryan, the WHO’s health emergencies program executive director, said that at this stage, there’s no evidence that “this virus will change the severity, the diagnostics or the value of vaccines going forward.”