Picture: THEO JEPTHA
Picture: THEO JEPTHA

A new variant of Covid-19 has been identified in SA and is circulating widely — but it is not clear yet whether it is more severe than the original variants.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize made this revelation on Friday night, speaking at a briefing alongside top scientists including professors Salim Abdool Karim and Tulio de Oliveira.

What was particularly concerning, they said, was that the new variant appeared to be spreading significantly quicker than the dominant variants when the coronavirus first started circulating in the country.

Also worrying, Mkhize said, was that there was a shift in the clinical picture — in that a larger portion of younger people with no comorbidities were presenting with severe illness.

Abdool Karim started his address ominously, saying: “We do not have good news for you.”

He said the virus was “spreading faster than the first wave” and was “probably across most of SA by now”. However, it was not clear whether the second wave had caused, proportionately, more or fewer deaths.

“In other words, the severity is unclear. We have not seen any red flags, looking at our death information,” he said.

Mkhize said that there was “no reason for panic”, and that the strategies of wearing masks, sanitising and social distancing would be as effective in preventing the spread of the new variants as the originals.

On Thursday night, there were 892,813 confirmed Covid-19 cases countrywide, with more than 9,000 of them in the preceding 24 hours. In the 24 hours before then, SA recorded more than 10,000 new cases, the first time it had done so since August 1.

Also by Thursday night, 24,011 deaths had been recorded across the country — with 184 of them coming in the preceding 24 hours.

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