South Africa’s second Covid-19 wave driven by new virus variant

New data indicates the country's second and faster-spreading coronavirus wave is driven by a new variant of the virus.

During a virtual briefing on Friday, the South African Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced a new coronavirus variant has been identified to be behind the country’s second Covid-19 wave. "The evidence that has been collected therefore strongly suggests that the current second wave that we are experiencing is also, therefore, being driven by this new variant," he said during the briefing. His words were echoed by Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the chairperson of the COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee, who highlighted that the second wave is spreading faster than the first.

In his address, Professor Abdool Karim also mentioned it is not yet clear if there are differences in mortality rates between the two waves. The differences in severity also appear to still be unclear between the variants that have driven the two waves. While it’s not known where the new variant originated from, it was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, from which it is believed to have then spread to the Garden Route and KwaZulu-Natal. Having been detected in nearly 200 genomes collected in October and November, the new variant is seen as a cause for concern, with the potential to complicate the country's efforts.