The South African government has dismissed allegations that a new variant of the coronavirus found in the country contributed to a second wave of infections in the UK and criticized its decision to impose travel restrictions.
A new variant of the virus that has been detected in the UK has a mutation that occurs in a common site with the South African strain, known as 501.V2, but they are “two completely independent lineages,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. in a statement late Thursday. . There is no evidence that 501.V2 causes more severe disease or increased mortality than any other variant sequenced worldwide, he said.
Mkhize’s comments came the day after British Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that flights from South Africa will be banned and that anyone who has been there in the past two weeks must immediately quarantine. Several other countries have also stopped flights from South Africa.
The new UK strain was identified about a month before the South African variant appeared to develop, Mkhize said, citing ongoing research from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, which was launched in June. He described Hancock’s announcement as “unfortunate”.
“It is widely accepted by the scientific community that, given the current circumstantial evidence, the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits and that it is possible to contain the variants by supporting international travel,” Mkhize said. “Therefore, we believe that non-pharmaceutical interventions and rigorous containment measures remain more important to reduce the risk of transmission.”
Coronavirus infections in South Africa have been on the rise since the government loosened most restrictions several months ago, and a second wave is now coinciding with the summer holidays. On Thursday, the Ministry of Health recorded a record 14,305 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 968,563.
Experts in South Africa lead the field of genomic surveillance alongside those from institutions in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK and have shared all the information on the evolution of the coronavirus with the World Health Organization, Mkhize said.