How the UK is handling the Kent coronavirus strain

Study finds variant discovered prior to Christmas may be 70% more deadly

A member of the public walks past a Covid warning advert.
(Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The new Covid variant discovered in South Africa led to hospitals being inundated with younger patients and pushed the country’s health system to its limit.

“Doctors panicked when younger, sicker patients flooded into hospital beds”, The Times reports, with the new variant triggering a “second wave of South Africa’s pandemic”.

The variant “hit South Africa’s healthcare system like a speeding train”, The Telegraph says, as clinics rapidly ran out of oxygen while “full of younger patients in a worse condition”.

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In early January, the nation was reporting more than 20,000 cases a day and around 800 deaths, “dwarfing anything seen in the first wave” and pushing medical staff to “breaking point”, the paper adds.

Dr Richard Lessells, whose team helped identify the strain in November, told The Times that hospitals “were getting the sense that something was very different this time around and alarmed at how rapidly infections were escalating compared to the first wave”. He said it was “amazing and terrifying how quickly it came to dominate”.

Cases began to fall around the middle of January after President Cyril Ramaphosa tightened lockdown restrictions and closed South Africa’s land borders. They are now hovering at about 2,500 to 3,000 per day, according to World Health Organization data.

But the speed with which the variant ripped through the country has experts concerned about the potential for further mutations - and a third wave - after the country paused the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab citing concerns over its efficacy.

“We know a third wave will occur and it will hit in about three to four months, which is around June and July,” Salim Abdool Karim, who co-chairs the Covid-19 committee that advises the president, told The Times. “The greatest fear is that the new variants would mutate to bypass immunisation which would undermine all our efforts and the third wave would be devastating.”

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