South Africa refuses to claim that its Covid variant is more dangerous than the British strain

JOHANNESBURG: The South African health minister has dismissed his British counterpart’s claim that a new variant of the coronavirus in the country is more contagious or dangerous than a similar one in the UK spread.
“At present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 (variant) is more transmissible than the UK variant – as suggested by the UK health secretary,” Zwelini Mkhize said in a statement released Thursday at the end.
“There is also no evidence that it causes more severe disease or increased mortality than the British variant or any variant sequenced worldwide.”
Announcing restrictions on travel from South Africa on Wednesday, Britain’s Matt Hancock said the variant was “highly concerning, as it is even more transmissible, and appears to have mutated further” than the similar strain in Britain.
The British minister’s words “created the perception that the SA variant was a major factor in the second wave in the UK,” Mkhize said.
“This is incorrect.”
He pointed to evidence that the British strain, which carries a mutation similar to the South African one, appeared as early as September in southeastern Kent County – “about a month before the South African variant appears to have developed.”
Citing “the widely shared opinion of the scientific community”, Mkhize also said that “the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits”.
“The travel ban between the UK and Australia is an unfortunate decision,” he added.
South Africa is the country most affected by the coronavirus on the continent, with nearly a million infections so far and 26,000 deaths.
About 14,000 positive cases were detected in each of the past two days, up from 8,000 and 10,000 earlier this week.
Mkhize said Wednesday that new restrictions may be needed to slow the spread of the virus.