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Your Covid-19 questions answered

How do experts track Covid-19 variants?

07 June 2022 - 07:00
Covid-19 testing is instrumental in tracking new variants of the virus, says WHO.
Covid-19 testing is instrumental in tracking new variants of the virus, says WHO.
Image: Picture: 123RF/lightwise

Covid-19 testing, sequencing and screening are instrumental in tracking and detecting new variants of the virus.

This also helps experts detect where the virus is more prevalent around the world, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Sequencing, testing and screening help experts observe how the virus changes while it circulates among groups of people.

“It is natural for viruses to change. The more the virus circulates, the more opportunities it has to change. Strong surveillance and strong sequencing help WHO with scientists around the world to look at those changes and determine which of those changes is important and why,” said the WHO's Dr Maria Van Kerkhove.

The organisation is working with experts around the world to track the virus and, so far, they have detected five variants of concern globally.

These include the Omicron variant, which is prevalent in SA. The organisation is also tracking subvariants of Omicron and the varying degrees of their severity.

“We work with experts around the world to look at the characteristics of the variants of concern around the world. Are they more transmissible? BA1.2 is more transmissible than BA.1. We're also looking at the severity and whether they are causing more or less severe disease,” said Van Kerkhove.

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