South Africa sees record 14,000 Covid cases driven by mutant strain

South Africa sees a record 14,000 new Covid cases while deaths climb pass 400 for the first time in months amid ‘exponential’ spread of new mutant strain now detected in Britain

  • South Africa logged 14,046 cases of Covid Wednesday, its highest one-day total 
  • Country also reported 411 deaths, the highest one-day toll since August 5 
  • Surge is being driven by more infectious mutant strain that has come to the UK 
  • Eight countries have recently cut travel with South Africa to control the spread 

South Africa has reported a record number of coronavirus cases in a single day, driven by a new ‘more infectious’ variant that has already been found in the UK.

The country logged more than 14,000 cases on Wednesday, its highest total of the pandemic so far, while deaths topped 400 for the first time since August 5.

Dr Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s minister of health, warned the virus is now spreading ‘exponentially’ and new lockdown measures may have to be brought in.

Eight countries have banned travellers from South Africa to try and contain the spread of the new strain, including the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

But the new variant, dubbed 501.V2, has already been detected in two locations in Britain – one in London and one in the north west – in contacts of people who had recently been to South Africa. 

South Africa has reported 14,046 new cases of coronavirus – the country’s highest one-day total of the entire pandemic, driven by a new and more infectious mutant strain

The country also reported 411 deaths on Wednesday, its third-highest total of the pandemic and the first time that deaths have risen above the 400 mark since August 5

The UK is among eight countries that have cut off most or all travel from South Africa to try and control the spread, though the virus has already been found in two locations in Britain

Announcing the new figures on Wednesday, Dr Mkhize said the ‘rate of spread is much faster than the first wave and we will surpass the peak of the first wave in the coming days.’

‘We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread,’ he added.

‘We can never stress enough the need for citizens to take every precaution necessary as we celebrate the festive season and look for reprieve from a tough year.

‘Unfortunately, Covid-19 is unrelenting and we, therefore, cannot afford to be complacent at this stage.’

The surge in cases is being driven by young people who have been accused of ignoring social distancing rules at end-of-year parties and festive celebrations.

Dr Mkhize has raised the possibility that the disease could also be more lethal in young people, saying that doctors ‘are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness’.

South Africa travel ban 

The following countries have restricted most or all travel from South Africa:

  • UK
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey 
  • Israel
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Panama
  • Mauritius 

However, he also stressed that research into the new variant – first identified in South Africa on Friday last week – is still in its early stages and it is too soon to definitivley tell whether it causes more severe disease. 

In a series of tweets described as an ‘urgent update’ on Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote: ‘I’ve taken the decision to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from SOUTH AFRICA from 9am tomorrow following an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus.

‘British & Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents arriving from South Africa will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for ten days along with their household.

‘Visitors from South Africa will not be permitted to enter, to stop the spread of COVID-19.’ 

Britain has already imposed sweeping Tier 4 lockdown measures to curb the spread of a mutated strain of the virus which is up to 70% more transmissible, and further studies are ongoing. 

South African doctors say their patients are younger and do not always have other conditions that amplify the virus’ effect, but are nonetheless suffering from more severe forms of Covid-19. 

South African Health minister Zweli Mkhize said the new strain appeared to spread faster, but that it was too early to tell its severity and whether current vaccines would work against it. 

‘The evidence that has been collated, therefore, strongly suggests that the current second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant,’ Mkhize added.

The mutant strain was first noticed amid rising Covid-19 cases, which the country had not predicted to see until its winter began in April next year. 

Professor Tulio de Oliveira told CBS News that rising cases had been spotted along the South African coast.

Prof de Oliveira warned: ‘Maybe the virus is beginning to outsmart us.’

South Africa’s coronavirus mutant is driving a second wave and more than 8,500 have been hospitalised – surpassing the country’s first wave peak of 8,300 inpatients

The number of daily new confirmed Covid-19 deaths per million people have rocketed in South Africa since the start of the month, while the UK’s remains considerably higher

A high number of tests are yielding positive results, according to seven-day rolling averages in both the UK and South Africa

The average daily COVID hospital admissions in Britain are around 1,909 a day, Matt Hancock confirmed today. Last week’s figures from South Africa showed numbers were growing and were at around 500

Covid-19 infections and deaths are rising in both South Africa and the UK. Britain announced 39,237 cases today as well as 744 deaths

Covid-19 cases are rising across all regions of South Africa amid concern over a new strain which was first spotted along its coast

In a series of tweets described as an ‘urgent update’, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote: ‘I’ve taken the decision to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from SOUTH AFRICA from 9am tomorrow following an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus’

He added: ‘British & Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents arriving from South Africa will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for ten days along with their household’

Mr Shapps concluded: ‘Visitors from South Africa will not be permitted to enter, to stop the spread of COVID-19

He added: ‘We are quite concerned, not only for South Africa, but also for the rest of Africa. 

‘Our health system has been has been affected by 20 years of HIV and TB epidemics, so we are quite concerned that while Africa may have escaped the first wave quite successfully, if it doesn’t become more strict and try to control this virus, we may not escape this this second wave as successfully as we did in the first one.’

The mutation means the country may see ‘many more cases’ in the new wave than it experienced in the first surge of the disease. 

Young people have hit the headlines in South Africa for fuelling the spread of the new strain with raves and parents have been criticised for not keeping their children under stricter control.

Super-spreader events including football tournaments, weddings, street parties and pub sessions have been widely reported on social media. 

Mutations in viruses are to be expected – more than 4,000 different strains of coronavirus have already been tracked – but genomics experts look out for critical changes to the spike proteins which can alter how people suffer from the disease.  

‘In the UK they have also identified a new variant… there are quite a few similarities between the two lineages… there are also a similar number of mutations,’ said Professor Tulio de Oliviera, a member of Cape Town’s genomics consortium. 

The two cases of the South African variant discovered in Britain were found in London and the North West.

The fact that they were detected through random routine sampling which picks out only around one in 10 tests carried out – and that they are thought to have been infected by separate travellers – suggests there are many more cases of the variant already in Britain. 

Britain has been leading the world in tracking changes to the virus so it is likely that many more such mutants are already widespread. 

The British mutant has already appeared in samples taken by scientists in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia. 

But in the case of the British variant, scientists have expressed confidence that the mutation will not impact the efficacy of the vaccine. 

This is because when the body produced antibodies to a virus it does so for large chunks of its genetic data, meaning that a more significant mutation would be required to defeat the vaccine. 

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant has been discovered in the UK.’

A mother holds her young child as they wait for food during a feeding scheme and food hand out by NGO ‘Hunger has no religion’ in Coronationville, Johannesburg, South Africa, today

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday it was in touch with the South African researchers who identified the new variant.  

‘We are working with them with our SARS-CoV-2 Virus evolution working group,’ said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, using the full name for the virus. 

‘They are growing the virus in the country and they’re working with researchers to determine any changes in the behaviour of the virus itself in terms of transmission.’ 

Like Britain, South Africa has found itself isolated by a series of travel bans following the discovery of the new strain. 

Aviation experts said they expected more airlines and countries to follow suit, at least until more was known.  

A hospital nurse performs a coronavirus test in Richmond, Johannesburg, last Friday with cases and deaths rising in South Africa 

Passengers wait in line at a Johannesburg airport on Monday as South Africa, like Britain, finds itself isolated by coronavirus-related travel bans 

South Africa’s tourism department said it had no information on numbers of flights cancelled or rescheduled due to the bans, but that it was working with the foreign ministry and foreign embassies to facilitate contact between foreign citizens in South Africa and their governments. 

South Africa has been affected more by the coronavirus than other countries on the continent, and as of Tuesday had seen 940,212 cases and 25,246 deaths.  

After a July peak in which cases were regularly rising by more than 10,000 per day, the numbers had fallen as low as 1,500 per day by mid-November. 

But they have since come surging back again, and deaths have also risen from a typical 93 per day a month ago to 226 per day now. 

The 339 new deaths added to the tally on Tuesday marked the highest single-day jump since the end of the first wave.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said there will be no hard lockdown this time but there are early closures for pubs and bars and curtailed hours for alcohol sales.

Ramaphosa has also ordered the closing of popular beaches during the festive season, which falls in the Southern Hemisphere summer.  

Why have we slapped a travel ban on South Africa and what further action can authorities take? Everything you need to know about the latest mutant strain

What has happened?

Within a week of learning about one new mutant strain of coronavirus, the UK now has another.

The variant was found in two people, one in London and another in the North West, who came into contact with separate people returning from South Africa.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday it was ‘highly concerning’ and the variant was ‘yet more transmissible’ than the original strain the UK has been battling.

Where has the new strain come from?

The new variant emerged after the first wave of coronavirus at Nelson Mandela Bay, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, and rapidly became the dominant strain in the area.

South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections in Africa, with around 900,000 cases and more than 20,000 related deaths.

The strain was picked up in this country using genomic sequencing.

What has been done to tackle it?

Both of the people in the UK who have the new strain of the virus have been quarantined, along with their close contacts.

Rapid investigation of the variant will now take place at Public Health England’s research laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire.

What further action can the authorities take?

It is understood the law could change to bring in a travel ban for most people flying from South Africa.

Meanwhile travellers returning from South Africa – and their contacts – will be required to go into self-isolation for ten days.

What does it mean for the fight against the virus?

One mutation in the new strain, called N501Y, is thought to help the virus become more infect- ious – and spread more easily between people.

That means measures such as social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding unnecessary contacts have become more important.

What about the vaccine?

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, told the Downing Street press conference there is no evidence the new strain may stop coronavirus vaccines from working.

Scientists will test the blood of those who have been vaccinated against coronavirus, or have recovered from it, to ensure they can fight off the new strain.

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