Jean-Jacques Cornish

South African Covid variant can evade antibodies to reinfect, tests show

The South African variant of the coronavirus has caused an “amazing and terrifying” infection spike in the country already hardest hit by the virus in Africa, according to 

The United States this week joined countries in slamming their doors on travellers from South Africa, which has itself closed its land borders and tightened lockdown regulations.

But the variant known has N501 Y V2 has already been detected in 32 countries. They include neighbours Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi where expatriate workers in South Africa took the virus home when they went to celebrate the festive season with families.

South Africa has not received a vaccine to start an immunisation programme and is unlikely to do so before the second quarter of 2021.

So far, the country has recorded 1,437,798 cases of Covid-19, with 43,105 fatalities.

Doctors this week made the encouraging announcement that the American-made Novavax vaccine was 60 percent effective against the South African variant in tests.

But Witwatersrand University Dean of the Faculty of Health Scientists Shabir Modhi, who directed the tests, added that anyone with mild to low antibodies after contracting earlier strains of Covid-19 were prone to reinfection by the variant.

Another big vaccine news day. J&J vaccine has 72% efficacy in US, which drops to 57% in South Africa, probably due to B.1.351 variant. With Novavax’s similar results yesterday, it’s a wake-up call about viral evolution. Story w/ @noah_weiland & @SharonLNYT— Carl Zimmer (@carlzimmer) January 29, 2021

Not deadlier, but more contagious

Medical experts say the variant is not deadlier than the original coronavirus. However it is 50 percent easier to catch.

Dr Richard Lessels of the KwaZulu/Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform says more than 90 percent of the new cases diagnosed in South Africa are the new variant.

“It is amazing and terrifying how quickly it came to dominate. We are in the beginning stages of watching this and other new variants becoming more dominant around the world.”

This is exacerbated by the inequity of availability of vaccine between rich and poor countries.

No-one safe until everyone safe

President Cyril Ramaphosa has joined World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in castigating rich countries for stockpiling vaccines while poor countries go without.

They maintain no-one is safe until everyone is safe.

Ghebreyesus calls it “a crisis of morality”.

California medical specialist Dr Jorge Rodriques puts a more pragmatic spin on failing to vaccinate the global population: “Replication means mutation which means resistance to medication which means variants.”

He notes that the Novavax trials in South Africa showed 60 percent effectiveness against the local variant in healthy patients and 50 percent in HIV positive people who tested.

Hospitals overrun

South African hospitals are overrun by the new wave of infections.

Imtiaz Sooliman of the charity Gift Of The Givers says people are driving six hours to fetch oxygen which is in short supply.

“Some people are dying in their cars while waiting to get into hospital or don’t make it through the casualty wards,” he says.

Specialist Phumla Mayanda says people believing misinformation about the danger of infection in hospitals are attempting treatment at home.

By the time they desperately seek admission, their oxygen levels have decreased fatally.

This article first appeared on RFI. Noteom

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.