Vaccine: Shattock reveals UK working on jab for South Africa variant

The analysis, undertaken by Houriiyah Tegally, Tulio de Oliveira and colleagues at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, looked at 1,300 near-whole genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 isolated in the country during the first six months of the pandemic. These findings, contained in a paper published in Nature Medicine, shed further light on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 throughout South Africa between March 6 and August 26.

The COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa is the largest in Africa, with more than 785,000 people infected, accounting for roughly 50 percent of all known African infections, and more than 20,000 deaths by the end of November 2020.

In their report, the authors write: “Most of these lineages have unique mutations that have not been identified elsewhere. 

The newly identified C lineage of SARS-CoV-2, C.1, had 16 nucleotide mutations as compared with the original Wuhan sequence, the report explains, and was the most geographically widespread lineage in South Africa by the end of August 2020.

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In addition, an early South African-specific lineage, B.1.106, identified in April 2020, became extinct after outbreaks were controlled in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

The authors added: “Our findings show that genomic surveillance can be implemented on a large scale in Africa to identify new lineages and inform measures to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

“Such genomic surveillance presented in this study has been shown to be crucial in the identification of the 501Y.V2 variant in South Africa in December 2020.”

While there is no evidence that the South African variant already spotted in the UK is more deadly, it does appear to be more contagious, and more resistant to existing coronavirus vaccines.

Operations for the door-to-door delivery of thousands of coronavirus testing kits are getting underway across England to help identify cases.

Eleven cases of the variant have been identified over the last five or six days in people who have no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.

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Two cases of the South African variant of coronavirus have been identified in Woking, in Surrey.

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver said: “There have been two cases identified in the postcode GU21 here in Woking of people that have the South African variant.

“What we’re doing today is starting a mass testing programme of between 9,000 and 10,000 residents living in that geographical area, really with the view to discovering how far and wide that variant has spread, or maybe it hasn’t.”

He added: “We want as many people as possible to take the test but it’s not compulsory at all, it’s voluntary.

“There’s no need for people to worry or panic about this. It’s just an exercise to identify where this variant is sitting in the community.

“They shouldn’t be concerned, it’s a bit more virulent, as we know, than some of the other variants, but the symptoms are the same.”

Volunteers will drop off testing kits and return later in the day to collect them before the tests are sent off to a lab to be examined for the South African strain.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits will also be deployed to the following areas: Hanwell, west London; Tottenham, north London; Mitcham, south London; Walsall in the West Midlands; Broxbourne, Hertfordshire; Maidstone, Kent; and Southport, Merseyside.

In a message aimed at people living in those areas yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is imperative that you stay at home, and that you get a test, even if you don’t have symptoms.

“This is so important so that we can break the chains of the transmission of this new variant, and we’ve got to bring this virus to heel.”

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