South African scientists have challenged the UK for using inaccurate claims about the prevalence in SA of a COVID-19 variant that can “circumvent” vaccines as justification for keeping SA on its red list, reports BusinessLIVE.
The UK drew criticism from the government and tourism bodies after deciding last Friday to keep SA on the list. The UK’s stance runs counter to much of the rest of the world, with countries including the US, Germany and Mauritius opening or planning to open their borders to vaccinated travellers from SA.
SA’s red list status means ravellers returning to the UK from SA must quarantine for 10 days at a cost of more than £2,000 (R40,500). The UK was SA’s largest tourist market before the pandemic, with more than 400,000 Britons visiting in 2019.
The UK High Commission on Monday said via Twitter that it remained “concerned about the continued presence of Beta given its potential ability to circumvent vaccines”. Beta is a variant of the coronavirus first identified in SA.
Prof Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform at UKZN, said this was not true and challenged the commission to provide publicly available genomic data showing the Beta variant is present in SA.
Labelled the “SA variant” when detected here in late 2020 — there is no proof the strain originated in SA — the discovery of the Beta variant saw SA banned as a travel destination by much of the world. Beta has since been surpassed by Delta, first discovered in India, which is also dominant in the UK.
Prof Shabir Madhi of Wits University told BusinessLIVE that other countries facing lower travel restrictions than SA to the UK — like Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh — had minimal genomic surveillance, resulting in the UK government being even less aware of what variants dominate there.
See more from MedicalBrief archives: