A new variant of coronavirus, which appears to be more transmissible, has been discovered in South Africa and is accused of a further increase in COVID-19 cases there.
Although it appeared independently, it has a mutation similar to that of new variant discovered in the United Kingdom that scientists say it is more transmissible, causing many nations to bans travel in the UK.
South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the new option appears to be linked to higher rates of severe disease in younger people and that scientists are working to find out more.
Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the countries that have stopped flights to and from South Africa.
Haley Ott of CBS News spoke with Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at KwaZulu-Natal University in Durban, South Africa, who is part of the team that discovered the new variant. . A transcript of the interview below was edited for length and clarity.
Haley Ott: We hear reports of new variants of coronavirus appearing in countries around the world. What is happening in South Africa?
Professor Tulio de Oliveira: We have a new variant that spread very quickly and that did (things) similar to what the London variant did – that is, to dominate. What it means – dominates – is the displacement of all the others, such as 20, 30 different descendants, that we had.
It is very important to note that the options between South Africa and the United Kingdom are very different. They do not have a common origin, but they have some similarities. Both have a key mutation in the peak glycoprotein that allows the peak protein to most likely bind better to cells and enter the body. Both in South Africa and the United Kingdom, we believe that this lineage is much more transmissible than the previous lineage. And we try to study this as quickly and as well as possible.
Is there any indication that these new variants have poorer results in terms of disease severity in South Africa or the UK?
At this time, we believe, both in South Africa and in the United Kingdom, that the severity of the disease is similar. But again, it’s still an open question. But we have no reason to believe that the severity of the disease is different. However, if it spreads much faster, we get a lot more people, just by their number, sick.
As more information about these new variants emerges and, in different countries, as governments announce their plans to respond, I think people may be a little confused about how intense their reaction to this should be. thing. Some people say that viruses move all the time, this is not uncommon. But we also hear that it is much more transmissible. How concerned should people be about these new variants?
Yes, viruses move all the time. And SARS-CoV-2 [coronavirus] had a kind of fixed linear mutation rate of about two mutations per month. We have not been worried so far about previous mutations, as they did not seem to drastically affect the biological properties of the virus. And that’s why we became more concerned, when two independent variants seem to spread faster in two areas of the world. We wouldn’t be surprised if other countries also find strains that they appear to transmit better due to mutations in the spike protein.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you discovered this new offspring in South Africa?
We increased genomic surveillance in the South African area, which received the first wave of the second wave, because we were quite surprised. Because in the summer of South Africa, we do not expect a summer and a second big wave to start in the summer. And when I looked at this, I saw that this lineage seemed to move others, but also to spread very quickly over the coast.
What do you think people should understand about what’s going on here?
We need to take an almost similar approach to many countries in South Asia and Asia and Oceania that have tried to stop the transmission and tried to stop the transmission when it starts, reacting very strongly to a small number of cases. So, what happened in South Africa, in the UK, in the United States or in Brazil, is that we let this virus circulate at a relatively low or high level and we tried to learn to live with the virus. But maybe the virus is starting to overtake us.
We are quite concerned, not only about South Africa, but also about the rest of Africa. Our health care system has been plagued by HIV and TB epidemics for 20 years, so we are quite concerned that although Africa could have escaped the first wave quite successfully if it does not become stricter and try to control this virus, we may not get rid of this second wave as successful as we did in the first.