South Africa is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases after a new mutation of the virus was discovered in the country.
Officials believe the variant, known as 501.V2, has a higher viral load than other strains, meaning there would be higher amounts of the virus in an infected person’s blood. Experts believe it is easier to transmit compared to other strains.
Approximately 931,000 South African citizens have been infected with COVID-19, with almost 25,000 deaths. The first wave of infections peaked in July and August followed by a significant drop in cases. The second wave started in early December and was attributed to large end-of-school-year parties thrown by students.
The new strain of the virus is more prevalent among younger people, and citizens aged 15-19 account for most of South Africa’s new infections. However, there hasn’t been an observable difference in symptoms.
“It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave,” professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairman of the South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee (MAC), told The Guardian.
The 501.V2 variant is similar to a strain sweeping through the United Kingdom, but they’re not the same.
“We have a new variant that has been spreading very fast, and that has done similar (things) to what the variant in London has done — that is, to dominate. What it means — dominate — is displacing all the others, like 20, 30 different lineages, that we had,” professor Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South African, told CBS News.
“Putting our data together with that in the UK, this [South African] variant is a bit more effective at spreading from person to person, and that is not good. It means we have to get a bit better at stopping it,” Dr. Richard Lessells told The Guardian. Lessells is one of the experts studying the South African variant.
“Ours raises a few more concerns for a vaccine [than the UK variant]. … Another worry is reinfection,” he added. “We are currently doing the careful, methodical work in the laboratory to answer all the questions we have and that takes time.”
At least five countries, including the UK, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, have banned flights to and from South Africa as a precaution.