A new variant of the coronavirus, which appears to be more transmissible, has been discovered in South Africa and is being blamed for a new surge in Covid-19 cases in the country.
Britain has imposed travel restrictions on South Africa after two cases of the transmissible variant of coronavirus were detected in the UK.
Health Secretary, Matt Hancock says both people travelled to South Africa where the variant has been linked to a surge in cases.
Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Turkey, Guatemala and Saudi Arabia are among a growing list of countries that had earlier stopped flights to and from South Africa.
Although it emerged independently, the new virus variant features a similar mutation to the one discovered
South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said that the new variant there, referred to as 501.V2, appeared to be linked to higher rates of severe illness in younger people, and that scientists are working to learn more about it.
“It’s very important to notice that the variants between South Africa and the UK. They are very different,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.
“Both of us, in South Africa and the UK, believe that this lineage is much more transmissible than the previous lineage. And we are trying to study that as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.”
South Africa has recorded 931,000 cases of Covid-19, with almost 25,000 deaths, according to official statistics. Excess mortality studies suggest a death toll of more than 56,000.
After a first wave peaked in July and August, the daily total for new cases fell dramatically.
However, the number of new infections began to rise steeply at the beginning of December, reaching 11,000 earlier this week.