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New variants will spread fast so don’t be complacent: Prof Abdool Karim

11 May 2021 - 16:00 By iavan pijoos
Prof Salim Abdool Karim warned that the B.1.1.7 variant was a fast spreading strain. File photo.
Prof Salim Abdool Karim warned that the B.1.1.7 variant was a fast spreading strain. File photo.

The Covid-19 variants detected in SA could spread “quite quickly” and no-one should become complacent, Prof Salim Abdool Karim warned on Tuesday.

The national health department confirmed on Saturday evening that 11 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant — first recorded in the UK — had been detected in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, while four cases of the B.1.617.2 variant first recorded in India were detected in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Karim, a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist, said the B.1.1.7 variant was a fast spreading variant and what was happening in the North West, the Northern Cape and the Free State was concerning.

Karim warned that the Free State and the Northern Cape could see “quite a lot of infectious quite quickly”, adding that super-spreader events would lead to fully fledged waves in the provinces.

He said “small flames” had to be put out before they became “raging flames”.

Karim said there was no clinical evidence that suggested that if someone was previously infected previously with the 501.V2 variant from SA they would be protected if they were exposed to the variant from India.

However, he said, it could be speculated from laboratory evidence that individuals who were infected with the 501.V2 variants produced antibodies that could neutralise the same virus.

“The main mutation in that virus is the same as the B.1.617.2. That’s why I think — I don’t know for sure — there is a good likelihood that individuals who were infected in our second wave would have an immune response that is likely to protect them from the B.1.617.2 variant.”

Karim said people who had asymptomatic infections had lower immunity in terms of antibody levels compared to someone who had a severe infection.

Antibodies in people who had an asymptomatic infection dropped dramatically within three to four months, he said.

Karim said he was “quite concerned” there was a “lot of complacency setting in” with many people not wearing masks.

“They have to put those masks on again and they have to put them on properly.

“I am concerned. In January everyone wore their masks, but now it’s about one out of four people I see not wearing their masks properly. They either have it around their neck, are holding it in their hand or putting it under their nose.

“We need [to] remind people that we are living in the midst of a pandemic. This virus is with us and we have to remain cautious and follow the rules.”