Indian COVID strain `variant of concern` but not vaccine resistant

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Mkhize confirmed in a statement on Saturday evening that the country had 11 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant discovered in the United Kingdom, and four cases of the B.1.617.2 variant found in India.

"There have been many accelerators that are fed into this", the 62-year-old said, stressing that "a more rapidly spreading virus is one of them".

Director of the KZN Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, said 15 Covid-19 variants originating from other countries had been detected in South Africa. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO's chief scientist, told Agence France-Presse on Saturday that the B.1.617 variant was concerning because it contains mutations that increase transmission.

But so far it has stopped short of adding it to its short list of "variants of concern" - a label indicating it is more unsafe than the original version of the virus by being more transmissible, deadly or able to get past vaccine protections. Gauteng has reported two cases of the variant from the United Kingdom, eight cases were recorded in the Western Cape, and one has been identified in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mass election rallies held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians have for instance partly been blamed by some for the staggering rise in infections.

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Over the weekend, Mkhize announced that two more Covid-19 variants had been detected in SA.

Additional information is expected to be released Tuesday, she said. Swaminathan further warned that chances of such unsafe variants emerging is more in the coming days.

They are seen as more unsafe than the original version of the virus by being more transmissible, deadly or able to get past vaccine protections.

"So far from the information that we have (is) the public health and social measures work, but we need to work that much harder to control any virus variants that have demonstrated increased transmissibility", she said, adding that WHO does not have anything to suggest that?our diagnostics or therapeutics and our vaccines don't work.

"That's going to be a problem for the whole world".

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