A NEW "ultra infectious" coronavirus variant has been detected in Papua New Guinea.
Cases of the B.1.466.2 were detected in dozens of Australians who had recently returned from the country.
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Queensland Health today revealed that genomic sequencing had detected the variant – which is not thought to be a variant of concern.
Genomic sequencing is being used across the world to detect new and existing variants of the virus and in the UK, this technology has enabled health officials to roll out surge testing in places where variants – such as the South African variant, have been detected.
One health official in Queensland said it was critical that any cases of the virus were detected.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said: "We are concerned by the new variants that are emerging overseas that are more contagious than previous variants we have seen in Queensland.
"It's also possible that this detection relates to previous Covid-19 cases that can shed viral fragments for a couple of months after they are no longer infectious."
In a statement, Queensland Health said that as the pandemic evolves, new variants will be detected.
"From 1 January to 25 March 2021 (6am) Queensland Health has been notified of 64 cases of Covid-19 in people with a history of travel in or transit through Papua New Guinea (PNG)."
It added that of the 67 active Covid cases in Queensland, 42 are from PNG.
"Currently the variant most commonly detected in travellers from Papua New Guinea is the B.1.466.2 lineage, which is not a lineage of concern", Queensland Health stated.
Experts have now warned that the detection of the new variant shows how badly countries need to get the variant under control.
PNG has been battling with a surge in cases in recent weeks which threatens to overwhelm it's already fragile health system.
University of Queensland virologist Kirsty Short said as the virus spreads more mutations will emerge.
Speaking to ABC she said: "I think we should interpret this news as a warning that we do need to get this situation under control.
"What it does tell us is that these mutations are happening and, if we let this outbreak continue, there'll be more and more mutations, with potentially the opportunity for variants of concern to emerge."
Cases in PNG have been rising in recent weeks and the country has now implemented further restrictions.
Australian medical assistants have travelled to PNG with ventilators and equipment.
There are a lack of jabs being given out in the country and Australia has pledged to give one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ordered from Europe to PNG.
The detection of the new variant in PNG comes as Indian officials yesterday claimed that a "double mutation" had been found in the country.
Experts in the western state of Maharashtra are now working to understand whether or not it could be more infectious and resistant to vaccines.
Viruses mutate all the time – but it is not yet clear if this one will make a difference on how the virus spreads.
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