South African COVID variant poses greater risk than UK strain: health secretary

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The new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa poses an even greater risk than the highly infectious strain that turned up in UK patients, the British health secretary said on Monday. 

Secretary Matt Hancock called the South African variant a “very significant problem” in a Monday interview on BBC radio. 

“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” he said on the program. “This is a very, very significant problem … and it’s even more of a problem than the UK new variant.”

Hancock told ITV News that the strain found in South Africa “seems even more easy to transmit than the new variant we’ve seen here [in the UK].”

Only two cases of the South African variant have been documented in the UK, but officials are hoping to keep a handle on it, as 55,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in the country on Sunday, according to the report. 

“We’ve got to keep an eagle eye on this one because it is even harder to deal with than the UK variant,” he said. 

Hancock’s concern stems from fears that vaccines won’t be as effective against the South African variant as they are for the one in the UK, ITV political editor Robert Peston tweeted, citing one of the government’s scientific advisers.

Oxford University scientist Sir John Bell told Times Radio Sunday that more research is required, and “there’s a big question mark” about whether the vaccines will work on the new strain, known as known as 501.V2.

But Bell added that he doubts the vaccines would be rendered completely ineffective against the variant.

With Post wires

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