The World Health Organization warned of grave concern about a new, highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in the UK, saying it was a normal part of developing a pandemic

WHO officials even shed positive light on the discovery of the new strains, which led a number of alarmed countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK and South Africa, saying that new tools to track the virus are working

“We need to find a balance. It is very important to have transparency, it is very important to tell the public how it is, but it is also important to convey that this is a normal part of the virus development,” said WHO Emergencies chief Mike Ryan in an online briefing

“To be able to track a virus so closely, so carefully and scientifically in real time is a really positive development for global public health and the countries that do this type of surveillance should be commended”

Citing data from the UK, WHO officials said they had no evidence that the variant made people sicker or more deadly than existing COVID-19 strains, although it appeared to be more likely to spread

Countries that imposed curbs acted with great caution while assessing the risks, Ryan said, adding, “This is prudent but it is also important that everyone realizes this is happening, these variations are occurring” p>

WHO officials said coronavirus mutations have so far been much slower than influenza and that even the new British variant remained much less communicable than other diseases such as mumps

They said vaccines designed to fight COVID-19 should also handle the new variants, although controls have been put in place to make sure they did

“While we have seen a number of changes and mutations so far, none of them have had a significant impact on the susceptibility of the virus to any of the therapeutics, drugs, or vaccines currently in use, and it is hoped that they will continue to do so “said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan to the briefing

The WHO expects to receive more detailed information on the possible effects of the highly transmissible new strain of coronavirus within days or weeks

Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; Letter from Josephine Mason; Adaptation by Mark Heinrich

On this file photo from Friday 1 February 2019, Mike Ryan, WHO Deputy Director General for Emergencies, during a press conference at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (Salvatore Di Nolfi / Keystone-FILE via AP)

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