New mutant Covid strain that’s hit UK is more rampant among younger people as it fuels 90% of cases in South Africa

THE UK has confirmed two cases of another 'more transmissible' Covid-19 variant linked to South Africa.

Two cases of a new, "more transmissible" Covid-19 variant linked to South Africa have been identified in the UK, the health secretary has said.


Both cases are contacts of people who travelled from South Africa over the last few weeks, Matt Hancock said in a Downing Street news conference.

Those with the new variant, and contacts of them, are quarantining.

IMMEDIATE QUARANTINE

The government has now imposed immediate quarantine rules on anyone who has travelled to South Africa in the past fortnight, and anyone they have been in contact with.

Hancock said the UK was "incredibly grateful" to the South African government for the "rigour of their science and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted as we did when we discovered a new variant here."

It is thought the South African strain may be behind a record number of people being hospitalised in the country with Covid-19, and scientists are analysing virus data to compare to the UK strain.

The new variant of the virus — known as 501.V2 — is now making up about 80 to 90 per cent of new cases in Africa’s most industrialised nation.

It was first announced by the South African government's health department on December 18.

Scientists had noticed "that particular variant has increasingly dominated the findings of the samples collected in the past two months."

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said the new variant recently discovered in the UK, and the one found in South Africa, are "very different" and are "different mutations".

"Both of them look like they're more transmissible," she added.

Dr Hopkins told the Number 10 press conference: "We have more evidence on the transmission for the UK variant, because we've been studying that with great detail with academic partners.

"We're still learning about the South African variant. We are pretty confident that the system we have in place will help control the spread."

It was reported yesterday a new mutant Covid-19 strain is fuelling a second wave of the virus in South Africa with surging numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths, say experts.

The South African variant is different from the British strain that is spreading rapidly, but is also believed to be highly infectious.

“It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave,” Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairman of the government's Ministerial Advisory Committee, said in a briefing.

The higher viral load in these swabs may translate into a higher efficiency of transmission

South Africa may see “many more cases” in the new wave than it experienced in the first surge of the disease, said Professor Karim.

“I will just speculate the following: the…higher viral load in these swabs may translate into a higher efficiency of transmission,” he added.

The new South African variant has been traced to Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, which was the first major urban area to be hit by the country’s second wave.

South Africa has recorded about 930,000 cases of the virus since the pandemic began and almost 25,000 deaths.

The country currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalised with Covid-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August.

“We are seeing a much earlier and much sharper rise in the second wave or resurgence than we anticipated,” Professor Ian Sanne, a member of the advisory committee, told South Africa's News24.

Although the new variant is highly-transmissible, experts are unclear whether it is more deadly.


However, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Sudan, Mauritius, Turkey and El Salvador have banned incoming flights from South Africa. 

In the UK, the latest variant causing concern was first detected in September and by November around a quarter of new cases in London were reported to be that strain.

By mid-December, that had reached nearly two-thirds of cases, reported the BBC.

Scientists believe the mutant strain detected in the UK – as well as Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia – could have even originated in the US.

Boffins have also revealed that the N501Y mutation was first spotted in Brazil back in April.

Mutations of Covid-19 are not unusual – the virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, is not the same one now found in most parts of the world.

The D614G mutation emerged in Europe in February and became the globally dominant form of the virus.

Another, called A222V, spread across Europe and was linked to people's summer holidays in Spain.

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