South Africa now has more than a million coronavirus cases. The infections are increasing rapidly, probably driven by the new virus variant discovered there. On-site researchers are investigating how dangerous it is.
The CDC, the African disease protection authority, provides regular information on the continent's latest coronavirus developments. At the last digital press conference on Christmas Eve, the journalists' questions really only dealt with one topic: What is the mutation in South Africa and how dangerous is this new virus variant?
The head of the agency and virologist John Nkengasong found it difficult to give satisfactory answers. But he repeated one thing over and over again: "What is absolutely clear is that it is transmitted quickly and a large number of people are infected at the moment. We know for sure. We do not yet know whether there will be more severe courses."
No indications yet of a more severe course
So there is still a lot to be found out about the new coronavirus variant. But what do the virologists who discovered the new variant actually know? One of them is Professor Wolfgang Preiser. He works at Stellenbosch University. If you talk to the head of the virology department about the new virus variant in South Africa, he looks relaxed. He reports something similar to the African authorities. There is still no evidence that the new corona virus variant has a more severe course:
"So far, we have no concrete evidence that this virus is more dangerous, that is, that if you get infected, you get a more serious illness. We also don't know whether it is more infectious. And we certainly don't know whether it affects the immune system in particular and can re-infect people who have already been infected. But we have certain clues that make it seem necessary to investigate this further, and that is what will be done. "
In addition to the investigations, it is also important to observe how the virus behaves in the population, according to Preiser. It was only through very elaborate studies that he and his colleagues were able to find out that there is a new variant of Coronavirus in South Africa: "We have formed a network of researchers who receive routine samples from patients from all over the country and then sequence them, i.e., the genetic material of the Define and compare the virus exactly. " Only in this way can mutations be detected at all.
According to Preiser, this does not mean, "of course, that these viruses only exist in the countries that found them. It may very well be that they have already penetrated other parts of the country and parts of the world or have developed independently there - and that you just don't know this yet. "
What does this mean for the vaccines?
If the mutation really has already reached more parts of the world than is known, the big question is: Do the previous vaccines also work against new corona virus variants like the one in South Africa?
Many experts in Germany are optimistic. The head of virology at the University of Stellenbosch also sees the success so far in the development of the vaccine as a good sign, even if it should not work immediately with variants:
"I am actually quite confident that - whatever surprises the virus has in store for us - that can also be brought in at relatively short notice. These vaccines have been developed very innovatively, so it will certainly be possible to make changes of the virus to be taken into account in future variants of the vaccine."
So there is also a lot of hope in the vaccines for the newly discovered virus variants. How these actually act on the mutation will probably soon be shown in Great Britain.
Back to strict restrictions
In the face of more than one million proven coronavirus cases, the South African government has imposed stricter restrictions on public life. There is now a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The government also reinstated a ban on the sale of alcohol. In addition, restaurants and bars must now close at 8 p.m. In public, there is a mask requirement. South Africa is the hardest-hit country in Africa.