A potentially more contagious variant of COVID-19 has been detected in South Africa.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the South African government announced the discovery on Dec. 18, confirming the mutated strain was different from the one detected in the UK. Early analysis suggests the variant that emerged out of South Africa is more transmissible and carries a heavier viral load than the original strain. However, experts are continuing to monitor the mutation to determine if it affects the efficacy of coronavirus treatments and vaccines. It's also unclear if the new strain causes more severe symptoms.
The discovery of the new variant comes as South Africa experiences a second wave of coronavirus infections. Member States have been advised to up their contact-tracing efforts and increase testing as experts continue to analyze the new strain. Additionally, Health minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize has confirmed the South African government is considering further lockdown restrictions in the country, which tallied more than 14,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
"We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread ..." Dr. Mkhize wrote. "We can never stress enough the need for citizens to take every precaution necessary as we celebrate the festive season and look for reprieve from a tough year. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is unrelenting and we therefore cannot afford to be complacent at this stage. We urge all South Africans to adhere to the regulations and recommendations pertaining to the National State of Disaster, avoid large gatherings and congested environments, ensure adequate ventilation in venues where they gather and vigilantly adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions: that is wearing of masks, social distancing and sanitization of hands and shared surfaces."
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the second new variant was detected in the UK last week. The mutated strain was found in two cases in which the patients had contact with people who traveled from South Africa.
“This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant discovered in the UK ..." Hancock said, as reported by the Guardian. "Anyone in the UK who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight and anyone who is a close contact of someone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight must quarantine immediately. They must restrict all contact with any other person whatsoever."