SA confirms dangerous new Covid variant

Everson Luhanga

A new Covid-19 variant, first detected in Botswana, has emerged and is said to be more dangerous and transmits at a faster pace.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, confirms that the new Covid-19 variant – known as B.1.1.529 – has been detected in South Africa.

In a blow to the tourism sector, on Thursday night the UK put South Africa back on its travel “red list” because of the variant. This means banned flights and hotel quarantine. Other countries are likely to put similar restrictions on South African travel. 

An increasing number of cases of the new variant are being confirmed as sequencing results come out.

Acting executive director at the NICD Prof Adrian Puren said: “It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa.

“Although the data is limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, who is the chairperson of the South African Medical Association, said the variant is said to have begun in Botswana and then started spreading in Pretoria.

After participating in a meeting on Thursday with other health experts and practitioners who sit on the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, Dr Coetzee said Gauteng should be worried about this variant.

Although some of the people who have been infected by this new variant were already vaccinated, people who are not vaccinated stand a greater chance of spreading the virus than those who are vaccinated, she stressed.