World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative Alexio Gasasira says there is a possibility of a new variant circulating in Zimbabwe following an unexplained influenza outbreak in Bulawayo.
Health authorities in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city admitted that they had noted an unusual flu outbreak but played down growing fears that it was the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.
Addressing journalists drawn from South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe on Tuesday during a virtual media cafè on COVID-19 and HIV, Gasasira said:
I cannot rule out the flu we are seeing here may be a new variant. Let us not speculate, so we are very much encouraged by efforts to build capacity in genomic sequencing and the training of scientists.
We must encourage our scientists to continue studying because if we do not have evidence, we are moving blind.
If we cannot sequence more samples, we may have other new variants. It is very possible that we may have a Zimbabwean variant because variants are discovered every day.
Gasasira said it is not yet clear what proportion of new cases was attributable to Omicron and Delta and the picture will become clearer with more genomic sequencing. He said:
In the third week of November, we still had a significant amount of the Delta variant circulating in Zimbabwe.
By the first week of December, most of the samples that were collected were Omicron.
We can’t reach a firm conclusion as to what proportion of Omicron, Delta, and other variants of interest, we still have because the number of samples that have been processed to date is very small.
In a few weeks, to come, we will be more confident to confirm if it is true this variant (Omicron) is causing milder illness than previous variants.
According to an online source, genomic sequencing is a laboratory method that is used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type.