Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has slammed Secretary for Health in the United Kingdom, Matt Hancock, for claiming South Africa’s new Covid-19 variant is more transmissible than the UK’s.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Hancock said that two cases of a new coronavirus variant had been identified and that both cases were close contacts of people who had recently returned from South Africa.
“This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK,” he said.
As a result, the UK banned travel from South Africa.
However, Mkhize said the perception that the variant in SA has been a major factor in the second wave in UK is incorrect.
“There is evidence that the UK variant developed earlier than the South African variant. On 14 December, the UK reported to the WHO that a variant had been identified and traced back to 20 September 2020 in Kent, south east England – approximately a month before the South African variant appears to have developed.
“This variant has a mutation occurring at a site common with the South African variant, although they are two completely independent lineages. The UK variant is thought to be driving the second wave that the UK are experiencing currently.
“In addition, the UK variant has already been identified outside of the UK as reported by professor Neil Ferguson, a top British scientist who told the UK’s science and technology committee on 23 December that evidence from Denmark, a country with a relatively low infection rate, suggests that ‘almost certainly’ the new variant identified in the UK is already in the ‘great majority if not all’ European countries,” said Mkhize on Thursday.
He further slammed the incorrect rhetoric that the 501.V2 variant was more transmissible than the UK variant or may potentially cause more serious morbidity and mortality.
“We have consulted with our genomics team who have assured us that, at present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 is more transmissible than the UK variant – as suggested by minister. There is also no evidence that the 501.V2 causes more severe or increased mortality than the UK variant or any variant that has been sequenced around the world,” he said.
Mkhize said the UK’s decision to ban travel from South Africa was “unfortunate”.
“Such a decision would require more scientific evidence than is currently available.”