The UK today banned travel to South Africa after discovering two cases of a mutated Covid-19 that sparked a massive second wave among young people in the country.
The mutant, named 501.V2, was announced in Cape Town last Friday and is considered a more extreme variant than the new British Covid strain that has plunged millions into miserable Christmas lockdowns.
Cases in South Africa have increased from less than 3,000 per day in early December to more than 9,500 per day, with the mutant accounting for up to 90 percent of these new infections.
More than 8,500 were hospitalized – more than the country's first wave peak of 8,300 inpatients.
Matt Hancock said, "This new variant is very worrying as it is even more transmissible and appears to have mutated further when the new variant was discovered in the UK."
Tour operators flew from London to South Africa in early October.
Virgin Atlantic began operating four weekly flights between London and Johannesburg on October 18, while two flights have arrived from Cape Town since Monday.
The company flies Boeing 787-9s with 290 people on each trip to South Africa – meaning more than 11,000 people could travel under normal conditions. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the number of passengers traveling.
British Airways has been flying seven times a week to Johannesburg and Cape Town since October 1st.
This means that more than 100 aircraft have flown between the two countries since flights resumed.
The UK, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel and Mauritius have banned flights from South Africa to stop the spread of the mutant, which is believed to cause more acute symptoms than other variants in young people.
The UK and South Africa are both suffering from a coronavirus resurgence which they attribute to newly identified mutations in the disease
South Africa's coronavirus mutant is fueling a second wave, and more than 8,500 have been hospitalized – more than the country's first wave peak of 8,300 inpatients
The UK has already put in place extensive Tier 4 lockdowns to curb the spread of a mutant strain of the virus that is up to 70% more transmissible, and more studies are ongoing.
South African doctors say their patients are younger and don't always have other conditions that make the virus worse, but still have more severe forms of Covid-19.
South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the new strain appeared to have spread faster, but it was too early to determine its severity and see if current vaccines would work against it.
"The evidence gathered therefore strongly suggests that the current second wave we are witnessing is being driven by this new variant," added Mkhize.
The mutant strain was first observed in rising Covid-19 cases, which the country had only predicted over the winter in April next year.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira told CBS News that more and more cases had been discovered on the South African coast.
Prof. de Oliveira warned: "Maybe the virus will start to outsmart us."
He added: “We are very concerned not only for South Africa but also for the rest of Africa.
"Our health system has been hit by the HIV and TB epidemics for 20 years, so we are rather concerned that, if Africa has escaped the first wave quite successfully, unless it steps up and tries to control the virus." We may not be able to escape this second wave as successfully as we did the first. & # 39;
Death rates among confirmed cases have increased slowly in South Africa, while the UK has seen a sharp decline since September
A large number of tests produce positive 7-day moving averages in both the UK and South Africa
Covid-19 infections and deaths are increasing in both South Africa and the UK. The UK today announced 39,237 cases and 744 deaths
The average daily COVID hospital admissions in the UK are 1,909 per day, Matt Hancock confirmed today. Last week's numbers from South Africa showed the numbers were increasing and hovering around 500
Covid-19 cases are on the rise in all regions of South Africa as concerns arise about a new strain first discovered along its coast
The mutation means the country may see “a lot more cases” in the new wave than it did when the disease first rose.
Young people have made headlines in South Africa for fueling the spread of the new strain with raves, and parents have been criticized for failing to keep their children under tighter control.
There has been a lot of coverage on social media about super spreader events such as soccer tournaments, weddings, street parties and pub sessions.
Mutations in viruses are to be expected – more than 4,000 different coronavirus strains have been tracked – but genomics experts watch out for critical changes in spike proteins that can alter how people suffer from the disease.
"In the UK they also identified a new variant … there are some similarities between the two lines … there are also a similar number of mutations," said Professor Tulio de Oliviera, a member of the Cape Town Genomics Consortium.
The two cases of the South African variant discovered in the UK were found in London and the northwest.
The fact that they were discovered through routine random sampling, selecting only about one in ten tests performed – and that they were believed to have been infected by different travelers – suggests that there are already many more cases of the variant in the UK .
The UK is a world leader in tracking changes in the virus, so it is likely that many more such mutants are already widespread.
The British mutant is already in samples from scientists in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.
With the UK variant, however, scientists have expressed confidence that the mutation will not affect the vaccine's effectiveness.
This is because when the body makes antibodies to a virus, it does so for large chunks of its genetic data, meaning that a more significant mutation would be required to defeat the vaccine.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This new variant is extremely worrying as it is even more transmissible and appears to have mutated further when the new variant was discovered in the UK."
A mother holds her young child while they wait for food during a feeding program and the food from the NGO Hunger Has No Religion is distributed today in Coronationville, Johannesburg, South Africa
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday it had contacted the South African researchers who had identified the new variant.
"We are working with them in our working group on the development of the SARS-CoV-2 virus," said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, using the full name for the virus.
"They are growing the virus in the country and working with researchers to see changes in the behavior of the virus itself in relation to transmission."
Like Britain, South Africa has isolated itself through a series of travel bans following the discovery of the new tribe.
Aviation experts said they expected more airlines and countries to follow suit, at least until more was known.
A nurse conducts a coronavirus test in Richmond, Johannesburg last Friday, with cases and deaths increasing in South Africa
Passengers wait in line at a Johannesburg airport on Monday as South Africa, like the UK, is isolated from coronavirus-related travel bans
The South African tourism department said it had no information on the number of flights that have been canceled or postponed due to the bans. However, it worked with the Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Embassies to facilitate contact between foreign citizens in South Africa and their governments.
South Africa is more affected by the coronavirus than other countries on the continent. As of Tuesday, there had been 940,212 cases and 25,246 deaths.
After a July peak where cases regularly spiked more than 10,000 a day, the numbers had dropped to 1,500 a day by mid-November.
But they've since come back, and deaths have also risen from a typical 93 per day a month ago to 226 per day.
The 339 new deaths on Tuesday were the highest one-day jump since the end of the first wave.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has said there won't be a hard lockdown this time, but there will be early closings for pubs and bars and shortened hours for alcohol sales.
Ramaphosa has also ordered popular beaches to be closed during the festive season, which falls in the southern hemisphere summer.
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