Everything you need to know about the South African Covid variant
Fears are growing that the South African Covid variant is spreading i n a small number of communities.
A “small number of people” are now found to be infected with the Covid-19 variant – despite having no travel links to South Africa.
Now all those over the age of 16 in the affected areas will be asked to take a coronavirus test.
It’s natural for viruses to mutate, but there has been increasing fear that this mutation could spread more easily – and be more dangerous.
Here is everything we know about the South African Covid variant.
Is the South African Covid variant more deadly?
The South African variant is thought to be as transmissible as the variant first identified in Kent.
That means it is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible.
However, there is no evidence to currently suggest it causes more severe illness than the original coronavirus.
Ruth Hutchinson, director of public health for Surrey, said: “It's really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don't need to worry.”
Will the vaccine work against the South African variant?
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At the moment, it’s too early to know exactly how well the vaccines work against the new strain.
There are some early indicators that this variant may be more resistant to the body’s immune response.
According to Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, this has to do with the spike protein – the bit of the virus that allows it to enter cells.
The vaccine works by blocking it with antibodies, preventing the virus from entering cells.
But one of the mutations on the South African variant seems to work against the antibodies.
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However, it’s important to note this isn’t the only way vaccines work.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, said: "What we do know is that [the variant] has more mutations… that is causing perhaps to have diminished effectiveness to a vaccine but still very good."
Scientists remain hopeful that vaccines can be tweaked fairly quickly – in weeks or months – to cater for new variants.
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