Rapidly Spreading Variants Compound Africa’s Coronavirus Woes

New coronavirus variants have proliferated across southern and eastern Africa, exacerbating the challenge of bringing the pandemic under control, analysis of the genomics data shows.

A strain first detected in South Africa late last year is “completely dominating all infection in southern Africa and seems to be entering East Africa,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of Krisp, a genomics institute in the port city of Durban, which is leading a group that’s evaluating the data. “Another variant is completely dominating infections in Uganda and Rwanda, and is spreading through truck routes.”

Africa is the world’s least-vaccinated continent, with many countries’ inoculation programs dependent on Covax — a global initiative that aims to ensure there is equitable access to the shots. The spread of variants has raised alarm because some of them appear to be more transmissible than the original virus and may be resistant to some inoculations. The longer populations go unvaccinated, the higher the risk that mutations will occur.

Krisp is working with authorities in more than 40 African countries to collect and analyze all available data so the prevalence of the South African strain and others identified in Nigeria and in travelers from Tanzania can be assessed.

‘Variant Reservoir’

“We do risk that Africa could become a reservoir for variants,” De Oliveira said in an interview on Tuesday. The continent needs to control their introduction and scale up its vaccination plans, he said.

Krisp is credited with first identifying the B.1.351 strain in South Africa, as well as the variant first identified in the travelers from Tanzania. Two months ago, De Oliveira described that strain as the most mutated yet to be detected.



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