JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa has announced that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is driving the country’s current resurgence of the disease, which is seeing higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
The new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa, according to health officials and scientists leading the country’s virus strategy.
“It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave,” Chairman of the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee Professor Salim Abdool Karim said in a briefing to journalists.
South Africa may see “many more cases” in the new wave than it experienced in the first surge of the disease, said Abdool Karim.
South Africa currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalised with COVID-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August.
“We are seeing a much earlier and much sharper rise in the second wave or resurgence than we anticipated,” Professor Ian Sanne, a member of the advisory committee, told South Africa’s News24.
The new strain, different from the one in Britain, appears to be more infectious than the original virus. South African scientists are studying if the vaccines against COVID-19 will also offer protection against the new strain.
Some of the vaccines, including the one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, are undergoing clinical tests in South Africa.
The scientists studying the new variant emphasised that preventive measures like wearing masks and social distancing are vital.
In response to the resurgence of COVID-19, the South African government has introduced tougher lockdown restrictions which include the closure of beaches in areas identified as hotspots.