South Africa’s COVID-19 variant should be high on the agenda for governments

Governments need to place more focus on South Africa’s COVID-19 variant, 501.V2, as it is now considered more infectious than the UK variant based on its dominance compared with other strains of SARS-CoV-2, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

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 UK variant, SARS-CoV-2 (B.1.1.7), which is believed to have caused the spike of cases in the UK. The South African variant is now getting wide coverage as it is rightly considered highly infectious than other variants.”

While mutations are expected for widely prevalent viruses, the South African variant shows more spike protein mutations than the UK variant, which might allow the virus to escape the immune protection provided by vaccination or prior infection.

Bhandari continues: “South Africa needs support from the international community for genetic sequencing, mapping, and further analysis of this variant. It is also unclear if the currently available vaccines such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s will be effective against these strains.”

This variant is expected to be the most prevalent in Johannesburg and other surrounding provinces in South Africa. A similar pattern was reported in the UK, where the B.1.1.7 strain quickly dominated the other strains in London and the surrounding areas.

Bhandari concludes: “Travel from South Africa should remain restricted until researchers have a clearer understanding of the variant’s contagiousness and antibody resistance.”

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