SARS-CoV-2 is the virus the causes COVID-19 and like all viruses, it mutates over time. A variant that is common in the UK has become front-page news as it is believed to be able to spread more efficiently. South African health minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize has announced that a different variant is also spreading fast in the African country.
South Africa has seen an average of over 9,000 new cases per day over the last week and according to the South African genomics scientists from across the country, led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), the new variant, 501.V2, is the most common type across the newly confirmed infections.
The new strain has several mutations not seen in the virus in South Africa before the end of September. The UK variant also has several mutations in its genetic code. Both variants have become incredibly common in their respective countries but cases of each have already been reported abroad.
“In the past few days, there have been reports of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference on Monday evening.
“The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality. WHO is working with scientists to understand how these genetic changes affect how the virus behaves. The bottom line is that we need to suppress transmission of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses as quickly as we can. The more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change.”
Scientists in the UK and South Africa as well as other countries are trying to understand if the new variants that are emerging are more dangerous and if the vaccine currently being administered or in clinical trials is effective against these variations.
It is paramount that health measures such as social distancing, mask usage, personal hygiene as well as lockdowns continue to be put in place to curb the spread of the disease further and reduce the chances for the virus to spread further and further, acquiring new mutations.
Over 77.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide leading to the death of 1.7 million people and long-term health conditions for almost four million people.
[h/t: Business Insider]