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New COVID-19 variant: Is this the pi variant?

Did COVID-19 researchers discover the new pi variant?

Photo of the coronavirus.
A photo of the virus that causes COVID-19. A new COVID-19 variant may have emerged as the omicron variant wave continues to surge across the world.
NIAID-RML via Associated Press

A new COVID-19 variant may have emerged as the omicron variant wave continues to surge across the world.

Per Deutsche Welle, a traveler who returned from France tested positive for a COVID-19 variant that has been identified as B.1.640.2, which reportedly has 46 mutations in an “atypical combination,” according to researchers.

  • This is more than the omicron variant, which has about 37 mutations, according to Deutsche Welle.

B.1.640.2 has two noteworthy mutations — N501Y and E484K — that could hint at the mutation’s ability to evade vaccines.

  • The first was found in the alpha variant of the coronavirus.
  • The second mutation “is one of the escape mutations located directly in the spike protein and thus probably affects the COVID vaccines’ effectiveness,” per Deutsche Welle.

However, researchers cautioned that there’s little information about the variant to make any determination on symptoms or transmissibility.

And this variant may have been seen before. As I reported for the Deseret News, a new COVID-19 variant — called B.1.X or B.1.640 — infected 24 people in a French school in October 2021. A handful of cases were found throughout Europe in the days after.

  • This variant struggled to surpass the delta variant, which proved too strong to defeat.

Cyrille Cohen, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post at the time that the B.1.640 variant has some mutations to keep in mind.

  • “This variant exemplifies that if you leave some of the world’s population without access to vaccines, then the virus will continue to multiply and it will lead to more variants,” Cohen said.

If this variant proves to be dangerous, it may end up becoming the pi variant. The World Health Organization skipped the letters nu and xi when naming the new omicron variant. The WHO said it dodged those names because they have meanings in the real world, per CNN.

  • “Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and xi was not used because it is a common surname,” the WHO said in an email to CNN.
  • “And WHO best practices for naming new diseases suggest ‘avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.’”