Mkhize lambastes UK travel ban, Covid-19 variant in SA is not more dangerous than UK variant

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South African Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize.
South African Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Jeffrey Abrahams
  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says there is no evidence that the 501.V2 variant of the coronavirus is more transmissible than the variant in the UK.
  • Secretary of State for Health in the UK, Matt Hancock, has created a perception that the variant in SA played a major role in the second wave of Covid-19 infections in the UK.
  • But Mkhize says there is no evidence that the SA variant is more pathogenic than the UK variant.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says there is no evidence that the new variant of the coronavirus in South Africa is more transmissible, that it causes a more severe form of Covid-19, or that it has an increased rate of mortality compared to the variant found in the UK. 

READ | UK curbs travel from SA as new variant of mutated coronavirus found

Mkhize has lambasted a UK government decision to ban travel between it and South Africa in light of the new 501.V2 variant.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock inferred this week that the new variant in South Africa was a major factor in the UK's second wave of Covid-19 infections.

"This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant discovered in the UK," Hancock said in a briefing on Wednesday. 

But Mkhize said Hancock's comments were concerning as well as a growing rhetoric that the 501.V2 variant was more transmissible than the UK variant or that it could cause more serious morbidity and mortality.

"We have consulted with our genomics team who have assured us that, at present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 is more transmissible than the United Kingdom variant - as suggested by [the] British Health Secretary.

"There is also no evidence that the 501.V2 causes more severe disease or increased mortality than the UK variant or any variant that has been sequenced around the world.

"This, as well as other factors that influence transmissibility, is the subject of further investigation involving genomic investigators, epidemiologists, public health specialists, clinicians and other key stakeholders."

The UK has banned travel from South Africa and has also asked people who travel from the country to undergo a 14-day period of quarantine.

Mkhize said banning travel between the UK and SA was unfortunate.

"It is the widely shared view of the scientific community that, given the current circumstantial evidence, the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits, and that it is possible to contain the variants while sustaining international travel," he said. 

Mkhize added: "There is no evidence that the SA variant is more pathogenic than the UK variant to necessitate this step."

He further noted that future research would shed light on whether the 501.V2 variant could become resistant to vaccines.

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