WHO calls for expanded measures to find virus variants

The head of the World Health Organization says it is important to step up genomic sequencing worldwide to ensure that new variants of the coronavirus are detected, as the pandemic enters its second year.

New variants detected in Britain and South Africa that appear to be more infectious have caused concern and triggered new travel restrictions this month.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says at an online news conference from Geneva that “there will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead — for example new variants of COVID-19 and helping people who are tired of the pandemic continue to combat it.”

He says that the WHO is working closely with scientists across the world to “better understand any and all changes to the virus” and their impact.

Tedros says he wants to “underscore the importance of increasing genomic sequencing capacity worldwide,” and of sharing information with the UN health agency and other countries. He says that “only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope.”