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South Africa not yet at risk from newly emerged ‘Delta Plus’ mutation, say scientists

Global Covid-19 infections continue to increase as the highly transmissible Delta variant keeps on spreading. In addition, scientists around the world are now monitoring a mutation of the Delta variant,commonly known as Delta Plus. 

Also called the B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 variant, the Delta Plus mutation is a sublineage of the Delta variant that is currently the cause for rising global Covid-19 infections. In South Africa, the Delta variant is responsible for the high infection rate in Gauteng.

The Delta Plus mutation has been identified in 11 countries, with 200 cases recorded as of 29 June, CNN Health reported. As of Monday 5 July, the World Health Organisation has not yet indicated if the Delta Plus mutation is a variant of interest or concern. 

In South Africa, three cases of Delta Plus have been recorded. According to Professor Tulio de Oliveira of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (Krisp) the Delta Plus mutation “is not very widespread” at the moment and has a “very low prevalence”.

Speaking during the weekly Covid-19 update webinar series presented by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, De Oliveira said the scientific community was keeping an eye on the new mutation, because vaccines might not be so effective against it, and there is also a strong possibility that it could reinfection in those people who have previously been infected by earlier Covid-19 variants. 

The prevalence of the Delta Plus mutation is currently 0.4% globally, he added. Delta Plus is still rare, but De Oliveira said more data about the mutation would be available in coming weeks. 

In South Africa, daily new Covid-19 infections reached a record high on Saturday when 26 485 new cases were confirmed. Countrywide, there are more than 192 000 active cases, more than half of them in Gauteng. The country is nearing an official death toll of 62 000 after another 333 fatalities were confirmed on Sunday

Meanwhile, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahrpra) on Saturday authorised the double-shot CoronaVac vaccine with conditions, bringing the total number of greenlighted Covid-19 vaccines in the country to three, together with the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccinations.

Sahpra chief executive officer Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela said in a statement that the authorisation “is subject to a number of conditions. Specifically, the applicant is required to submit the final results of ongoing clinical studies.”

The CoronaVac vaccine was manufactured by China’s Sinovac Life Sciences and has a shelf life of 24 months. It must be stored at a temperature of 2°C to 8°C. 

South Africa can expect its first shipment of 2.5-million CoronaVac doses before the end of July.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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