New Covid strain 50% ‘more infectious’, says Abdool Karim

Grant Boone
January 20, 2021

It has been the main driver of a second wave of national Covid-19 infections, which hit a new daily peak above 21,000 cases earlier this month. It is, however, putting more strain on hospitals that may lead to more deaths.

According to the Vice-President for Research at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Professor Jeffrey Mphahlele, with research ongoing, there seems to be no conclusive data to suggest that there is large-scale re-infection.

It is one of several new variants found in recent months, including others first discovered in England and Brazil, which scientists worry are hastening the spread of Covid-19.

Bhandari continues, "South Africa needs support from the worldwide community for genetic sequencing, mapping, and further analysis of this variant".

The new variant is 50 per cent more contagious, said epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of the health ministry's scientific committee.

"A study of 44 South Africans who were infected with Covid-19 and recovered in the first wave showed that more than 90% of them had reduced immunity".

Professor Salim Abdool Karim during the 24th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly 29-31 Jan 2015
Professor Salim Abdool Karim during the 24th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly 29-31 Jan 2015

The researchers are concerned because the vaccines target the spikes on top of the virus, and this variant has mutations in two different regions of the spike.

A coronavirus variant that first appeared in South Africa and has now been spotted in more than a dozen other countries might partially evade the vaccines, researchers said during a presentation Monday.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize hosted a panel discussion with scientists where more information on the new variant was shared.

The decline "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 with hospitalisations continuing to trend upwards, showing an 18,3% increase on 16 January compared to 7-days prior".

Bishal Bhandari, Senior Epidemiologist at GlobalData, comments, "This new strain is independent of the UK's new strain, but the mutation and rise in cases in South Africa had gone largely unnoticed, especially in the earlier stages, while extensive coverage was given to the new United Kingdom variant, SARS-CoV-2 (B.1.1.7), which is believed to have caused the spike of cases in the UK".

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