WHO is closely monitoring 10 Covid variants as virus mutates around the world

“There actually are a number of virus variants that are being detected around the world, all of which we need to properly assess,” Van Kerkhove said. Scientists look at how much each variant is circulating in local areas, whether the mutations change the severity or transmission of the disease and other factors before categorizing them as a new public health threat.

“The information is coming in fast and furious,” she said. “There are new variants every day that are being identified and being reported, not all of which are important.”

Other variants classified as variants of interest include B.1525, which was first detected in the U.K. and Nigeria; B.1427/B.1429, first detected in the U.S.; P.2, first detected in Brazil; P.3, first detected in Japan and the Philippines; S477N, first detected in the U.S., and B.1.616, first detected in France.

Van Kerkhove said the classifications are determined, at least in part, by sequencing capacities, which vary by country. “It’s really patchy so far,” she said.

She said the agency is also looking to local epidemiologists as an extension of the agency’s “eyes and ears” to better understand the situation on the ground and identify other potentially dangerous variants.

“It’s important that we have the proper discussions to determine which ones are significant from a public health value, meaning does it change our ability to use public health social measures, or any of our medical countermeasures,” she said.

“We are putting the right people together in the room to discuss what these mutations mean,” she said. “We need the global community to be working together, and they are.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a list of four variants of interest and five variants of concern that is similar to the WHO’s list, though the CDC primarily focuses on variants that are causing new outbreaks in the United States.

Van Kerkhove said a number of countries “have some worrying trends, some worrying signs of increasing case numbers, increasing hospitalization rates and ICU rates in countries that don’t yet have access to the vaccine, who have not reached the coverage levels that are needed to really have that impact on severe disease and death and on transmission.”