Delta variant is dominating SA’s third wave: 5 things you need to know about the Covid-19 strain

28 June 2021 - 15:25 By cebelihle bhengu
The Delta strain of the Covid-19 virus is highly contagious and has spread faster than other variants. File photo.
The Delta strain of the Covid-19 virus is highly contagious and has spread faster than other variants. File photo.
Image: 123RF/perig76

SA is battling not only the rise in Covid-19 infections but a variant which is worrying scientists, the Delta strain, which is more infectious than others found in the country thus far.

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi raised the alarm on Saturday during a press briefing and said the number of infections in the third wave had already surpassed the rate of infections in the first and would likely surpass the rate of the second wave too.

Hospitalisations are on the rise in the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and Gauteng, but other provinces could soon see a spike as well, Kubayi said in a press briefing.

Here are five important things we know about the Delta variant so far: 

Why should you care about the mutation of Sars-CoV-2?

Sars-CoV-2 is the virus that causes Covid-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says all viruses take different forms or mutate, as is the case with Sars-CoV-2. 

The Delta variant has been found to spread faster, and is more infectious, than other strains.

It is important to know about the behaviour of the virus as this helps understand how easily it spreads, the associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines, therapeutic medicines, diagnostic tools, or other public health and social measures.

How the Delta variant has taken over in SA.
How the Delta variant has taken over in SA.
Image: Department of Science and Innovation

Where was it first detected and when was it detected in SA?

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday the new variant was first identified in India where it “spread like wildfire”. The president said the Delta variant has now spread to 85 countries.

Here in SA, said Ramaphosa, the Delta variant has been detected in the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

Ramaphosa said scientific evidence has shown that Delta is spreading rapidly and is fast displacing the Beta variant, which was first identified in SA and was dominant during the second wave.

Does it cause severe symptoms?

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Delta is highly transmittable, more than Beta which was dominant during the second wave. 

“When transmission grows, we overwhelm our hospitals and we have extra deaths not only from Covid-19 but from other diseases,” he said.

He said there is no clear evidence about the severity of Covid-19 symptoms among patients infected by the new variant, and it is possible for people who were infected with other strains to be reinfected with the Delta variant.

Which vaccine is more effective?

De Oliveira said on Saturday “there is no evidence of vaccine escape”, which means the vaccines now administered in SA have a high level of protection against severe diseases. 

On Sunday, Ramaphosa allayed fears about the vaccines and assured South Africans about their safety.

“There is evidence that the vaccines we are using in SA are effective against the Delta variant,” he said, before issuing a warning to those who spread misinformation: “You are spreading panic, fear and confusion at a time when we can ill afford it.

“The scientific evidence before us shows that vaccines work,” he said on the effectiveness in preventing severe illness or hospitalisation from the new variant.  

What symptoms are associated with the Delta variant?

Dr Richard Lessells, De Oliveira's colleague at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp), said data has shown that some of the symptoms associated with the Beta variant, like loss of smell and taste, were not prominent with the Delta variant.

“In the UK at the moment the most prominent symptoms are headaches, sore throats, runny nose and sneezing. What is less prominent are some of the symptoms we previously highlighted like loss of taste, smell and fever,” he said. 

It's still unclear whether this is because of the variant or the differences in population and age groups that have tested positive for the new variant. 


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