Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said at a briefing that anecdotal evidence suggests a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture whereby more younger patients are becoming infected with the critical illness.
"Clinicians have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture - in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness. The evidence that has been collated, therefore, strongly suggests that that the current second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant," Mkhize said.
The chairman of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, Salim Abdool Karim, said the strain, dubbed the 501.V2 variant, was likely behind the acceleration in transmissions but that it was yet unclear whether the new strain was contributing to increased fatalities.
"It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests that the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave. It is not clear if the second wave has more or less deaths, in other words, the severity is still very unclear. We would expect it to be a less severe virus, but we do not have clear evidence at this point. We have not seen any red flags looking at our current death information," he said.
New strains of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been discovered around the world. Studies suggest that a mutation of the virus in the first outbreak in Wuhan, China, made it more contagious and fueled its global spread. As was reported earlier, South Africa, along with six European states, the Faroe Islands and the US, have reported mink-related coronavirus mutations, confirming the transmission of the coronavirus from minks to humans.
South Africa is the most highly-infected country in Africa, with just over 900,000 cases registered and at least 24,285 deaths.