New ’more transmissible’ Delta variant dominates Covid-19 infections in SA
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DURBAN - THE first case of the Delta variant, discovered on a ship in the Durban Harbour, was now dominating all new Covid-19 infections and spreading rapidly throughout KwaZulu-Natal.
Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi said that nationally, Covid-19 numbers had surpassed the first wave peak and would probably surpass the second wave peak. She was with a panel of experts when she held a virtual briefing on Covid-19 on Saturday afternoon. Kubayi said local scientists, after conducting sequencing experiments, had discovered that the new Delta variant was prevalent in the country.
KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) for the Network for Genomic Surveillance SA’s (NGS-SA) Professor Tulio de Oliveira, said that previously there had been complete domination of the Beta variant, and then other variants appeared, the Alpha and Delta.
“In the more recent data we looked at community transmission in KwaZulu-Natal, and now we are busy on Gauteng. What we’re worried about is not that it completely took over, but that this is coming from a representative randomly selected sampling of more than 30 clinical sites ranging from Harry Gwala, which is in the deep south of KZN, to Zululand in the deep north. It has just spread everywhere in the province.”
De Oliveira said the Delta variant seemed to be much more transmissible due to mutations in its genome.
“This variant, like other variants, spreads extremely fast – it is in more than 85 countries. Not only is this variant seemingly spreading very fast, but it’s very quick to start dominating potentially the global pandemic. What we didn’t expect is a higher risk of reinfection.”
Dr Richard Lessells, also from NGS-SA, said the symptom profile might be a little different with this variant. In the UK, the most prominent symptoms were headache, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. Less prominent were some of the symptoms they had previously highlighted, like loss of taste, loss of smell, and fever.
“We don’t know for sure if this is a feature of the Delta variant, or whether it might be just because the variant in some settings is affecting different age groups in the population, or that it’s affecting people who may have had one dose of the vaccine and therefore the clinical presentation is slightly different.
“In terms of disease severity, we don’t really know yet whether this variant is associated with more severe disease or increased risk of death.”
Lessells said some of the early suggestions from the UK were that there may be an increased risk of needing to be admitted to hospital with the Delta variant.
He said the best data on vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant came from the UK.
“They are using two vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine, which is one of the vaccines also in our vaccination programme. With the Delta variant, the vaccines remain effective after you’ve had the two full doses of these vaccines.”
“Although there’s a bit of a drop-off in effectiveness after the first dose as the immunity is building up, this disappears once you’ve had the full two-dose schedule.”
The Johnson and Johnson vaccines also seemed to be effective.
Dr Frans Skosana, a pulmonologist at Netcare Olivedale Hospital, took to Twitter on Friday, saying: “Today, we have transferred some ICU patients from Johannesburg to Durban hospitals because we can’t continue caring for them in the emergency department and theatres. We have seen this crisis in other parts of the world, but now it is unfolding right in front of us.”
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa, said: “A mix of public fatigue and new variants are driving this surge. The Delta variant, which dominated India’s second wave, has been reported now in 14 countries.
“We are mobilising additional experts to deploy to some of the most affected countries, including Zambia and Uganda, and to reinforce the capacities of a regional laboratory hub in South Africa to monitor the circulation of variants of concern.”