South African health officials are grappling with a new wave of COVID infections, some linked to a newly identified variant of the coronavirus as the country closes in on 25,000 fatalities. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced another 216 COVID fatalities on Monday.
At least 150 samples from the Eastern Cape region show links to a variant found there, which has led to several countries banning travel from South Africa. The Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces also have been hard hit.
The NICD said last week that between 10 and 20 mutations were found that have emerged since September.
“SARS-CoV-2, like all viruses, mutates with time,” the NICD explained. “Between March and September 2020, this virus mutated at a relatively slow rate, as evidenced by over 2,000 sequences from across 8 of the 9 provinces. However, from late September 2020, this virus has accumulated several mutations that have not previously been seen in South Africa.”
Scientists are still trying to understand the changes, but the NICD said at this point they know one of the changes increases binding to the human cell receptor, which could make it easier for the virus to infect. Two others appear to make the virus less sensitive to antibodies. The illness and symptoms, as well as treatment, remain the same.
South African officials are asking people to remain calm but also remain vigilant about COVID preventions, and to follow their masking and social distancing practices.
Image: University of Hong Kong file