The most mutated variant of the coronavirus yet was found in travelers from Tanzania, prompting scientists to call for greater monitoring in a country that has largely ignored the pandemic.
A report submitted to the World Health Organization and regional bodies shows the strain has 10 more mutations than found on any other version, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of Krisp, a scientific institute that carries out genetic testing for 10 African nations.
Krisp, which discovered a new strain in South Africa last year that propelled a resurgence of infections in the country, found the new variant in travelers arriving in Angola from Tanzania.
“It is potentially of interest,” de Oliveira said in an interview on Friday.
Variants of the coronavirus have caused concern globally as, for instance, the one first identified in South Africa known as 501Y.V2 has proven more infectious and able to more easily evade some vaccines.
Still, no work has been done yet on the version found in three Tanzanian travelers to ascertain whether it is more infectious or severe than other strains.
The newly discovered version will be grown at laboratories at Krisp and an attempt will be made to ascertain how easily it evades antibodies, de Oliveira said.
The variant comes from a lineage of the virus first identified in China, whereas many others trace their roots to Europe.
Under recently decesased President John Magufuli, Tanzania stopped releasing data on coronavirus infections and opened up the economy including the resort island of Zanzibar, which attracts international tourists. Magufuli’s stance attracted criticism from neighbors and the WHO as anecdotal evidence suggested many people in the country have contracted the disease.
His successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has yet to indicate whether she will change his policies.
“This may be a big wake up call to Tanzania,” de Oliveira said.