South African clinicians have discovered a variant of the COVID 19 virus that appears to be more contagious than the original pathogen and affects younger victims more seriously.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says the mutation, called SARS-COVID-501v2 is similar to the variation discovered in Britain.
It has been found in 200 samples in 50 different hospitals.
Eastern Cape mutation
The mutation was first identified in the Eastern Cape province but has since moved along the coast to the Western Cape and upward to KwaZulu Natal.
COVID is growing exponentially in these three provinces, says Mkhize and added restrictions will probably be necessary.
The minister has been visiting the more seriously infected regions since President Cyril Ramaphosa last week announced that the second wave of COVID has officially hit South Africa.
He restricted the hours that restaurants would-be allowed to open and cut from six to four the number of days that retail liquor outlets could open.
The nighttime curfew has been extended by two hours. Beaches in the Eastern Cape have been closed and those in the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal are officially shut on the peak holidays.
This has not stopped holiday makers traveling to these leisure spots during their peak summer vacation.
The death toll on South African roads this month approaches 700.
Mkhize deplored secondary school leavers celebrating the end of their examination in massive, drink-fueled parties along the coast that have become super-spreader events.
“These young peopled not wear masks and are clearly intoxicated,” he said.
“They throw caution to the wind and don’t care about the rules of the disaster.”
South Africa figures
South Africa’s latest COVID 19 figures show 216 deaths in the past 24 hours and 8769 new cases.
This brings the total death toll to 24 907 with 913 000.infections. Officials record that 796 000 of these have recovered
The Health Ministry says having missed the December 15 deadline, South Africa has now paid the deposit for COVID vaccinations expected to arrive early next year.
Dr Anban Pillay of the National Health Department says as a member of COVAX South Africa expects to be part of the first allocation of vaccines.
It is not clear whether existing vaccines are effective against 501v2.
The bulk of the vaccinations in South Africa will be in the third and fourth quarters of 2021.
In the COVID hotspots, hospitals are reporting that beds are full in the intensive care units where seriously ill patients receive oxygen and sometime ventillation.
In the Western Cape, doctors say they are having to make life and death decisions as COVID cases soar.