South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Zwelini Mkhize faulted a decision by the UK government to impose tough travel restrictions on it following the detection of two cases of another new variant of coronavirus (501.V2) in the UK.
The UK’s Department of Transport on Thursday barred entry of visitors arriving in England who have been in or transited through South Africa in the past 10 days, and direct flights, excluding cargo and freight without passengers, were also banned.
Mkhize in a statement termed the decision as “unfortunate” and one that needed additional scientific evidence than what was currently available.
He added that there was no evidence that the South African variant was more dangerous than the UK variant to warrant such action.
“We, therefore, maintain that non-pharmaceutical interventions and strict containment measures remain most important to reduce the risk of transmission.”
Mkhize said there was evidence that the UK variant developed earlier than the South African variant and comments by his UK counterpart Matt Hancock had created a perception that the South African variant has been a major factor in the second wave in the UK.
“To give some historical context, on 14 December, the UK reported to the W.H.O. that a variant had been identified and traced back to 20 September 2020 in Kent, South East England- approximately a month before the South African variant appears to have developed,” he said.
“This variant has a mutation occurring at a site common with the South African variant (the 501), although they are two completely independent lineages. The UK variant is thought to be driving the second wave that the UK are experiencing currently.”
Hancock had said the South African strain was even “more transmissible” and had “mutated further” than the one which emerged in Kent.
South Africa recently announced the new variant of COVID-19 (501.V2) was driving the country’s current resurgence of the disease, which is resulting in greater numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The variant is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa, according to health officials and scientists leading the country’s virus strategy.
In response to the resurgence of COVID-19, the South African government introduced tougher lockdown restrictions which include limited days and hours for the trade of alcohol and the closure of beaches in areas identified as hotspots.
South Africa has so far reported 968,563 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25,983 deaths.