Covid-19 surge in South Africa driven by new variant

 ·24 Dec 2020

Government may have to review current lockdown restrictions and consider further measures to curb the exponential spread of the Covid-19 virus, says health minister, Dr Zwelini Mkhize.

The minister’s remarks come as South Africa recorded 14,046 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday at a positivity rate of 26%, bringing the indicating cumulative total of cases to 954,258.

The health department also reported an additional 411 Covid-19 related deaths which brings the total to 25,657 deaths.

The Eastern Cape recorded 101, Free State 3, Gauteng 34, Kwa-Zulu Natal 90, Mpumalanga 6, North West 6 and the Western Cape 171 deaths.

“This indicates that the virus continues to spread exponentially- indeed the rate of spread is much faster than the first wave and we will surpass the peak of the first wave in the coming days.

“We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread,” said the minister.

A cumulative total of 6 269 776 tests have been conducted with 54,048 tests conducted since the last report.

National Health deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay, told ENCA that in the prior surge, the country averaged 12,000 daily infections before declining.

“But with the new variant, and festive season…we anticipate that there will be higher levels of transmission unless we change our behaviour.”

He warned that the daily average could shoot up to 20,000 daily infections if behaviour did not change around social distancing, and wearing of masks.

The Dr said that the new variant of the virus as changes in its spike protein, making it easier to transmit and attach onto cells.

He said what is very clear about this new variant is its ability to infect “much more easily”.

To date, new variants of the disease have only been detected in the UK and South Africa.

The mutations appear to make the virus more contagious and may be increasing infections among healthy young people, Bloomberg reported.

Sky News reported that genetic analysis shows that it shares some of the mutations of the new strain already widespread in the UK, but the two viruses have evolved separately.

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said the new variant recently discovered in the UK, and the one found in South Africa, are “very different” and are “different mutations”.

“Both of them look like they’re more transmissible,” she added.

All provinces, with the exception of the Eastern Cape, continue to report increases in their cases with KwaZulu-Natal at 30%, Western Cape at 28% and Gauteng province at 23% registering the largest increases and comprising 81% of the new cases.

“Therefore, it will be important for us to evaluate the situation in these provinces, identify hotspots in these areas and in other provinces where they may be identified and make recommendations based on these findings, and the outcomes of what has been implemented in the hotspots that have been identified so far,” said the minister.

Dr Mkhize urged citizens to take every precaution necessary as they celebrate the festive season and look for reprieve from a tough year.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 is unrelenting and we therefore cannot afford to be complacent at this stage. We urge all South Africans to adhere to the regulations and recommendations pertaining to the National State of Disaster, avoid large gatherings and congested environments, ensure adequate ventilation in venues where they gather and vigilantly adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions,” he said.


The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), will pump R25 million towards the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) as scientists grapple with the new Covid-19 variant.

Higher Education, Science and Innovation minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced this on Friday, during a joint briefing with the Department of Health and scientists.

“This was in the wake of the latest surveillance results that shows a worrying trend of the highly transmittable Covid-19 variant first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape, and moved to the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and is now the dominant and possibly the only Covid-19 variant responsible for the current surge,” said the department.

According to the department, the R25 million of the R45 million required over the next 12 months will help scientists to complete the sequencing of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) 10 000 genomes in South Africa and Africa.

A group of scientists discovered the new “unusual” coronavirus variant called 501.V2, which is spreading rapidly in the country.

The department said the grant will be used to understand the spread of Covid-19 and other virus lineages on the continent while also supporting the clinical and laboratory investigations of the genomic variation in the country.


Drugmakers who designed the first Covid-19 vaccine to gain clearance from Western regulators say they could reset the shot to counter a new strain within just six weeks, if needed, Bloomberg reported.

Healthcare workers, the elderly, and those with comorbidities and essential workers will be among the first to get the Covax vaccine which is to be delivered to South Africa by the first half of 2021.

This comes after the National Department of Health and the Solidarity Fund made a down payment of $19.2 million (R283 million) to the GAVI vaccine alliance to secure South Africa’s entry into the Covax facility.

Read: What vaccine makers are saying about mutant Covid-19 strains

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