Yet there’s no evidence that it causes a more severe or different form of the disease, and hospitalisation and mortality rates as a proportion of the number of infections are lower than during the first wave in July and August, said Ian Sanne, an infectious diseases doctor and head of Right to Care, a non-profit that provides treatment to people with HIV and associated diseases.
“We have seen data on viral loads being higher in patients that present with the variant,” he said in an interview Thursday. “The variant is more transmissible, the second wave has been substantially impacted.”
The emergence of the 501.V2 variant, which Sanne says could have originated elsewhere before being identified in South Africa last month, has caused a political spat between South Africa and the U.K., where a similar mutation is driving up infection rates.
U.K. Health Minister Matt Hancock has said that the South African variant is more dangerous, prompting the U.K. to halt flights between the two countries. South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has labeled Hancock’s comments as “unfortunate” and unsupported by evidence.
The variant is dominating infections in the coastal South African provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape and to a lesser extent the Western Cape, Sanne said.
While more young people appear to be developing severe forms of the disease, it’s as yet unclear whether that’s due to the variant or more comprehensive testing and the holiday season, he said.
There’s no evidence that Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved won’t work against the new strain. As of Dec. 30, the South African variant had been reported in four other countries. The U.K. variant has been found more widely, with reports spanning 31 other countries, territories and areas across the world.
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.