A researcher who identified a novel coronavirus variant in Nigeria cautions against automatic assumptions that the risks it poses are similar to those of new strains that have emerged elsewhere.
The new strain was uncovered last week by scientists at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in southeastern Nigeria.
ACEGID director Christian Happi says the variant was found in two out of 200 samples of virus collected from patients between August 3 and October 9.
The two samples were taken from the same state in Nigeria at different times.
They show a variant “different to the one that has been circulating in Nigeria, different from the one in South Africa and different from the one in the UK,” he says in an interview with AFP.
Britain tightened restrictions after finding a new strain there that it said was more contagious than initial forms of the virus.
South Africa says a new strain detected there could explain the rapid spread of a second wave that has especially affected younger people.
Happi stresses that scientists were racing to unlock knowledge about the Nigeria strain and urged people not to “extrapolate.”
“We have no idea, no evidence to say that this variant is linked to the spike we are seeing in Nigeria or not,” says Happi, explaining that samples from the latest cases were being analyzed for an answer.
Nigeria has recorded more than 82,000 cases of COVID-19, of which 1,246 were fatal.
Compared to the country’s population of some 200 million people, this number is tiny.
However, the tally of cases has been rising by several hundred a day since the start of December. There has been a major increase in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, prompting the authorities there to reinstate a curfew and ban gatherings of more than 50 people.
But the number of deaths in Nigeria has not experienced a proportionate surge.