Scientists uncovered new biological evidence which shows that the South African COVID-19 variant is more infectious, as it binds more readily and strongly to human cells, according to a leading local epidemiologist.
Salim Abdool Karim made the revelation on Monday when he spoke during a presentation of research into the variant which was identified by South African genomics experts in late 2020.
The strain, informally referred to as 501Y.V2, is already the dominant virus variant in South Africa’s Eastern and Western Cape provinces and has driven a surge in coronavirus infections in the country.
The detection of two cases of the variant in the UK saw the UK government impose a ban on direct flights from South Africa and restrictions on flights to the country last month.
South Africa’s Health minister Zweli Mkhize at the time faulted the decision saying there was no evidence that the South African variant was more dangerous than the UK variant to warrant such action.
Politicians and scientists in the UK are also worried that vaccines currently being deployed or in development may be less effective against the South African variant.
However, Karim said there was as yet no answer to that question, though scientists globally were working on it.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last week imposed stricter measures to contain the spread of the virus in Africa’s worst-affected country.
Ramaphosa said the number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths being reported had become “far higher” than they had ever been since the country recorded its first case in March last year.
South Africa has reported 1,337,926 confirmed cases and 37,105 deaths, according to South Africa’s Ministry of Health.