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SA ’prepared’ for new Covid-19 variant found in New York

Professor Salim S Abdool Karim is the chairperson of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19. File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Professor Salim S Abdool Karim is the chairperson of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19. File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 28, 2021


Durban - The new Covid-19 variant discovered in New York has been dubbed not as much of a concern for the country by co-chair of the ministerial advisory committee.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim said the B.1.526 Covid-19 variant discovered in New York was not as concerning when compared to the 501Y. V2 variant discovered in our country last year.

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“The variant found in New York has similarities to the variant that was found locally which is that both variants have an E484K mutation which assists the virus in circumventing the immune system. The concern in the US is that should the variant spread, it would lead to reinfection. But the variant that we have been fighting has two additional mutations and this is why the 501Y.V2 is more concerning than the B.1.526,” he said.

Abdool Karim said the precautions and measures implemented to combat the 501Y.V2 variant worked against the B.1.526 meaning the country was already prepared. The 501Y.V2 variant that was discovered by the Kwazulu-natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform team led by Professor Tulio de Oliveira and Richard Lessells has already proven to be more infectious due to the E484K mutation.

According to the US Consulate in Durban, the proclamation made by US President Joe Biden on January 25 that put SA on the no-flight list due to the 501Y.V2 variant remained and that no visas would be granted to non-us citizens.

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However, US citizens are able to fly to and from SA but must provide a negative Covid-19 test result taken within three calendar days of travel.

In a statement this week by researchers from the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the prevalence of the B.1.526 was said to have steadily increased since first appearing in samples collected in November.

In January it represented about 3% of analysed samples, rising to 12.3% by mid-february. The cases they found were scattered throughout the New York City area.

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Anne-catrin Uhlemann, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, said an analysis of publicly available databases did not show a high prevalence of the variants identified in South Africa and Brazil in case samples from New York City and surrounding areas.

“Instead we found high numbers of this home-grown lineage,” she said.

Other researchers from the California Institute of Technology posted a recent study on biorxiv that stated researchers found Covid-19 cases caused by B.1.526 were predominantly emerging in the northeastern US, corroborating the researchers from Columbia.

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