B.1.1.529 variant: Dirco says UK govt rushed decision to place SA on its red list

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The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) has criticised the UK government’s decision to return South Africa to its travel red list again, due to the detection of the new B.1.1.529 Covid-19 variant.

Dirco on Friday said while South Africa respected the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK government’s decision seemed to be rushed as the World Health Organization (WHO) was yet to advise on the next steps.

Minister Naledi Pandor raised concerns about the impact of the latest travel ban on South Africa’s recovering tourism industry, almost two months after its removal from the UK red list.

“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” Pandor said.

ALSO READ: New Covid variant: UK implements travel ban as SA infections surge

The minister said South Africa would engage the UK government to attempt to persuade them into reconsidering this decision.

Britain on Thursday said it would temporarily ban all flights from six southern African countries, including South Africa, after detecting a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations.

The new Covid variant was detected initially in three cases in Botswana, six in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.

“The early indication we have of this variant is it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it,” UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

B.1.1.529’s transmissibility

As of Thursday, South Africa had detected 22 new cases “following genomic sequencing collaborations between the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and private laboratories”.

Infectious diseases specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Richard Lessells, said there was “some concern this variant might not just have enhanced transmissibility but might also be able to get around parts of the protection in our immune system”.

He noted the C.1.2 variant detected a few months ago remained at relatively low levels.

However, in the first two weeks of November, Lessells noted B.1.1.529 was already becoming dominant. Lessells said hundreds of recently collected samples were being sequenced and the results could be available by the end of this week.

Professor Adrian Puren, NICD acting executive director, said it was not surprising the new variant was detected in South Africa.

“Although the data is limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” Puren said.

“Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date.”

Compiled by Thapelo Lekabe

NOW READ: Covid-19: New B.1.1.529 variant becoming dominant in SA, says health minister

Source: citizen