Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

New Covid-19 variant in South Africa ‘of concern at a global level’ — WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified the Covid-19 B.1.617 variant as one of concern, but the agency maintains that available vaccines remain effective “at preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant”.

The B.1.617 variant, first detected in India, was previously viewed as one of interest. New data of the variant’s particular lineage — B.1.617.2 — have shown a rapid spread to countries across the world, including in South Africa.  

Maria van Kerkove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the WHO’s lead on Covid-19, told media on Monday, 10 May that “there is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of the B.1.617. As such we are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level.” 

The WHO’s list of concerning variants includes B.1.1.7, first detected in the UK, P.1 originally from Brazil, and the B.1.351 variant, first detected in South Africa. 

Barring the P.1 variant, South Africa has detected all other variants in the country. 

Referring specifically to the B.1.617 variant, Van Kerkove said “we don’t have anything to suggest that our diagnostics or therapeutics and our vaccines don’t work” against this lineage. 

Dr Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, told the Mail & Guardian that South Africans should not be “overly concerned” about the new variants, but rather about the number of Covid cases again increasing in several provinces. 

“It’s those two things together that should worry us rather than just the fact that these variants are coming into the country, because that’s not surprising. We see rising infections and new variants in many parts of the world. It’s inevitable as we’re travelling much more than a year ago,” argues Lessells. 

On Monday, WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus said a global “plateauing in the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths” had been recorded in most regions. However, it remained a high plateau, he said “with more than 5.4-million reported cases and almost 90 000 deaths last week”.

In South Africa, the number of daily Covid infections fell to fewer than 2 000 on Sunday after a four-day high with reported daily cases of slightly more than 2 000. Since the last report on Monday, 10 May, 1 129 new infections were recorded, bringing the number of cases since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year to 1 597 724. 

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

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.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

R350 social relief grant not enough to live on

Nearly half of the population in South Africa — one of the most unequal countries in the world — is considered chronically poor.

More top stories

Young and jobless? Apply for one of 287 000 education...

Education department urges young, jobless people to apply for teaching assistant vacancies

Officials implicated in arts council mismanagement will be brought to...

The National Arts Council vows that every cent from the sector’s Covid-19-relief programme will be disbursed to artists, after auditors uncover maladministration

Covid-19 vaccine mandates: a constitutional balancing act

South Africa’s laws allow the government to implement mandatory Covid vaccinations but, if it chooses this path, it must do so responsibly

Popularity will not guarantee mayoral selection — Ramaphosa

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has promised a more rigorous mayoral selection process, which will involve the party’s top six

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…