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When clinicians at Netcare hospitals in Nelson Mandela Bay noticed a sudden spike in Covid-19 admissions in mid-November, they immediately sounded the alarm with Brazilian-born virus hunter Tulio de Oliveira and his team at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp).

The scientists sprang into action, working at breakneck speed to analyse specimens from these patients, along with samples from 50 surrounding clinics. The results were astonishing: almost all the infections were due to a new coronavirus variant, now known as 501Y.V2...

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