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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist


Scientists slate Boris Johnson’s ‘limited intelligence’ on virus variant

South African scientists have found that previous infection does not grant immunity against the 501Y.V2 Covid-19 variant, while they and political analysts agree that Boris Johnson probably shouldn't be taken seriously in his attempts to vilify South Africa as its source.


As British Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues branding South Africa as the primary source of the most recent Covid-19 variant – a label infuriating local scientists - political experts who have described Johnson say this shouldn't be cause for concern as far as politics between South Africa and Britain. Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock have been persistent with their narrative of attributing the UK Covid-19 surge to the “South African strain”, raising the ire of professor Tulio de Oliveira of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) – a University of KwaZulu-Natal science thinktank. De Oliviera was…

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As British Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues branding South Africa as the primary source of the most recent Covid-19 variant – a label infuriating local scientists – political experts who have described Johnson say this shouldn’t be cause for concern as far as politics between South Africa and Britain.

Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock have been persistent with their narrative of attributing the UK Covid-19 surge to the “South African strain”, raising the ire of professor Tulio de Oliveira of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) – a University of KwaZulu-Natal science thinktank.

De Oliviera was among the South African scientists who discovered the new variant and has gone as far as expressing his discontent with the Brit on Twitter:

De Oliveira tweeted this in response to Maryam Shahmanesh who is associate professor in clinical epidemiology at the University College of London Institute for Global Health and faculty member at the Africa Health Research Institute, who had questioned Johnson’s intelligence.

Independent political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga and Wits University school of governance visiting professor Susan Booysen, also slammed Johnson’s comments.

Mathekga said: “South Africa has played quite transparent when the new strain was discovered, by informing the world on time. I don’t think it would really help for Johnson to attack South Africa on this one.

“It is not fair to attack SA as if it held back information on the new strain. Johnson has his own domestic problems at home because the British have had enough of the lockdowns.”

Booysen said Johnson’s criticism of South Africa, based on the latest Covid-19 strain, exposed his “lack of leadership”.

“Unlike his predecessors, Boris Johnson is not always taken that seriously. His opinions are more kneejerk than considered.

“In the world of diplomacy, South Africa can follow this matter up by sending through a strong-worded diplomatic letter to London.”

Previous infection does not guarantee immunity to new variant

Meanwhile, Krisp and the Africa Health Research Institute have found the new Covid-19 variant called 501Y.V2, is able to escape antibodies generated from previous infection.

Using live virus grown from Covid-19 patients, experts Dr Alex Sigal, De Oliveira and Dr Richard Lessells, tested blood plasma, which contained antibodies from people who had recovered from the virus, against the new variant.

They discovered that the antibodies of patients infected in the first wave in South Africa were “much less able to neutralise 501Y.V2 relative to previous lineages of Covid-19”.

“Compared to first-wave variants, we needed about a six to 200-fold higher plasma concentration to neutralize 501Y.V2 in a lab setting. The ability of the virus to evolve may have been underestimated.

“This work gives us important new insight into the key mutations that are found in the 501Y.V2.

“These results with the live virus add to the growing body of evidence that the 484K mutation is a key mutation that allows the virus to escape neutralisation.

“The body’s immune response to viruses is complex and has many different facets – of which the antibody response is only one component.

“Vaccines may also give rise to a broader range of antibodies,” said the experts.

brians@citizen.co.za

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