Identified last month, the new Covid-19 strain – ‘501.V2‘ – has been seen as the driving force behind the rapid increase in Covid-19 infections in South Africa. Many have feared that the new strain may be more deadly. But according to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, this is not so. While the new strain is reportedly more infectious, ‘data shows it is not more likely to cause hospitalisation or death’. While South Africa is yet to receive the vaccine, there are many who are concerned that the new strain may be resistant to the inoculation. According to Karim, ‘In South Africa, studies into the new variant’s resistance to vaccines have yet to be completed, and evidence will be provided when available’. Jarryd Neves

South Africa’s new virus strain is 50% more infectious

By S’thembile Cele and John Bowker

(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s genomic scientists have found the new coronavirus variant driving the country’s resurgence of new cases is about 50% more transmissible than earlier versions.

Professor Salim Karim

The 501.V2 strain identified last month “can attach to human cells more efficiently” than its predecessors, Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, said in a presentation. However, data shows it is not more likely to cause hospitalisation or death, he said Monday.

South African Covid-19 cases began to accelerate in November and the following month scientists announced the discovery of the new mutation. President Cyril Ramaphosa went on to introduce stricter lockdown rules, including a ban on alcohol sales and a nighttime curfew.

Other variants have been identified in countries including the UK and Brazil, leading to concerns that increasingly dangerous versions of the pathogen may hamper the global roll out of vaccines and cause further economic devastation.

In South Africa, studies into the new variant’s resistance to vaccines have yet to be completed, and evidence will be provided when available, Karim said.

The country’s second wave was far more severe than than the initial one in July, though may have passed its peak, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a presentation. New case numbers have started to fall, giving some cause for optimism.

The decline in infections “could be attributable to many factors, including enhanced physical distancing facilitated by lockdown regulations,” Mkhize said. “Having said that, the health-care system continues to experience significant strain.”

Many health workers have reported a shortage of critical-care beds, oxygen and staff as the virus ripped through the country. South Africa has detected 1.35 million coronavirus cases so far, the most in Africa, and 37,449 people who tested positive have died, latest Health Ministry statistics show.

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