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WRAP | New variant of Covid-19 has been discovered – and it appears to be spreading fasterHealth minister Zweli Mkhize says a new variant of Covid-19 has been discovered by the countrys top scientists, which was driving the second wave and causing critical illness among patients who have no comorbidities.
Researchers have also said the virus appears to be spreading much faster during the second wave.
The new variant, however, will not require new measures of prevention or treatment, researches said, emphasising that physical distancing and proper hygiene remained crucial.
Mkhize was briefing the media on scientific developments on Covid-19. The briefing was co-hosted by higher education minister Blade Nzimande.
The KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp), based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has made the discovery.
Mkhize said a particular variant of the Covid-19 has dominated recent virus samples, and the second wave is being driven by this variant of the virus.
He said a similar variant of the virus has been discovered in the UK. He said President Cyril Ramaphosa and some health stakeholders have been briefed on the latest developments.
Member of the governments Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said the new developments do not spell good news, but it was important for the public to be informed about its severity.
Krisps Professor Tulio de Oliveira said the objective of researchers was to get a grasp of how the new strain is behaving, saying it was very possible that it had increased likeliness of transmissions. It is also important, he said, to increase sampling of infections in places that are taking the strain of the second wave.
Karim explained that the second wave has well and truly overshot the peak that was initially seen in the Western Cape. Similarly, he said, the second wave seems to be rapidly rising in KwaZulu-Natal.
He said researchers wanted to see whether there have been more deaths due to the new variant, but said the early data was inconclusive at this stage.
Karim said viruses generally evolve to become less lethal over time. Covid-19, he said, had been relatively stable during the first wave. He said preliminary data says the virus is spreading faster in the second wave.
He said further data showed there is a higher amount of virus – known as the viral load – in each swab that is now taken. This may translate into a higher rate of transmission.
The new variant has likely spread across SA, he said
Karim said it is, however, unclear where this new variant came from and why it ended up in Nelson Mandela Bay – which has been badly hit in the second wave.
He said it is also unclear whether it is more severe and whether people can be reinfected by it. He said the second wave was well and truly established in all provinces now.
The [variant] does seem to be spreading fast, but we can deal with it, Karim said, adding that the same prevention measures and treatment remained the same.
– Kerushun Pillay