Coronavirus Variants in South Africa and Britain

Coronavirus Variants in South Africa and Britain

Researchers are concerned about the South African variant of coronavirus, which has more mutations. Analyses are underway to see if it does not bypass the immune response provided by the vaccines.

Tulio de Oliveira, the leading officer at a genetics lab in South Africa, began receiving concerned calls from doctors in the Eastern Cape province with huge growth in Covid-19 patients in November.

Telling herself that there's something very strange there Oliveira said had discovered a new variant of the coronavirus as a notable virus hunter.

Susan Engelbrecht, the senior scientist at the Stellenbosch lab, negated her saying that she'd be shocked if the new variant had reached her area as it's over 700 kilometers away from Nelson Mandela Bay the first spot for the spread of the variant. De Oliveira betted with her that if they found the variant in more than half of the samples from Stellenbosch, she would receive a bottle of wine. Of the 67 samples from Stellenbosch, 58 were the same as the variant from Nelson Mandela Bay.

After the discovery of an unfortunate strain, the government is expected to present Thursday, January 7 its new strategy in the face of the epidemic, in particular, because of a variant of the virus spotted in Great Britain. But it is the South African variant that the researchers have in their sights to understand if it would not bypass the vaccines' immune response.

Like Britain, South Africa faces exponential growth in the epidemic. With almost 20,000 new cases a day, that's three times less than in the UK, except that its summer and locals can spend more time outdoors. However, they too are affected by a variant of coronavirus, called 501.V2, which is present in 90% of people tested.

A more contagious variant, like the British variant

The researchers had identified this variant in October when there were only 2,000 cases a day. The patients do not have more severe forms, but they have a higher viral load; that is to say, they can transmit it more quickly to their relatives, people get sick at the same time. The most fragile therefore arrive at the hospital simultaneously, causing the saturation of health services. For this reason, the South African government imposed at the end of December the wearing of masks everywhere, curfews, and the ban on the sale of alcohol.

Already a case spotted in France

An inhabitant of Haut-Rhin contracted this South African variant after a trip there. He is now cured after going into solitary confinement. But it is because he went to be tested near his home, in Switzerland, that we detected this variant's presence in our territory. The Minister of Health  Olivier Véran has therefore also requested a marking in specific tests of his signature and the British to identify its distribution, for the moment limited to 22 cases.

Additional mutations on the edge of the coronavirus

If this variant worries some researchers more, it also contains mutations in the coronavirus's spike protein. And it even has more than the British variant, including one called E484K. It is precisely this protein that vaccines have targeted to teach our cells to spot the virus and fight it. It should not change too much composition otherwise, this will call into question their effectiveness. If the researchers are rather reassuring about the English variant, analyses are underway to see if the South African variant does not bypass the immune response provided by the vaccines but also by a first infection with the original virus.

We are waiting for the results of ongoing tests to verify this hypothesis, explained the executive director of the South African National Institute of Diseases. For his part, the boss of BioNtech estimates that he can recombine his vaccine against this new strain or another in six weeks if necessary.