Health system to feel pressure as new Covid variant spreads - expert

Health system to feel pressure as new Covid variant spreads - expert

An infectious disease specialist says the South African health system should start feeling pressure in the next couple of days and weeks following the emergence of a new variant B.1.1.259.

Hospital bed

The variant, which has 10 different mutations, was detected in the last 36 hours as Covid cases continue to increase, especially in Gauteng. 

At an urgent media briefing this afternoon, Health Minister Joe Phaahla and a panel of experts confirmed that while they don’t know much about this variant, they do know that it is spreading fast. 

The origins of the variant are unknown, however, it has been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong. 

UKZN’s Professor Tulio Oliveira said in Hong Kong it was detected in South African travelers. 

“The one good news is that this variant can be detected by one particular PCR, which means that we can detect it very quickly which will allow us to track and understand its spread.

“What we can see is very early signs from diagnostic labs that it has been increasing in Gauteng, but it’s also present in other provinces. We can make some predications about the impact of the mutations but the full significance remains uncertain, what we know is that the vaccines remain the critical tool to protect us against severe disease,” said Oliveira.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Richard Lessells said they particularly concerned by the variant’s ability to attack other parts of the immune system. 

“We also see mutations that are well known from other variants of concern and interest and they give us concern that these might give the virus an enhanced ability to spread from person to person and also to potentially get to other parts of the immune system, not just the neutralising antibodies.” 

Oliveira said unfortunately the health system will feel some pressure in the coming weeks as cases increase.

Phaahla said cabinet and the coronavirus command council will meet over the weekend to look at the impact of this new variant and ways to curb its spread. 


Listen to more news from Jacaranda
Jacaranda FM

Show's Stories