There is no evidence that the 501.V2 variant of the coronavirus that has been detected in South Africa has higher transmissibility than the strain recently identified in the United Kingdom despite such claims from London, South African Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said.
Earlier this week, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the 501.V2 variant has also been detected in his country and claimed that it is more dangerous than VOC-202012/01, the coronavirus strain that is 70 more contagious than usual and has been spreading in the UK since September.
"We have consulted with our genomics team who have assured us that, at present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 is more transmissible than the United Kingdom variant- as suggested by British Health Secretary," the minister said in a statement published on Thursday.
The minister added that were also no indications to suggest that the 501.V2 variant increases COVID-19 mortality, specifying that the strain is still "subject of further investigation."
Mkhize also voiced concern that Hancock’s statement may lead to the assumption that COVID-19 spread in the UK is linked to the 501.V2 variant.
"We have, however, noted the statement delivered yesterday by the Secretary for Health in the United Kingdom, Matt Hancock, and must register our concern that some of his utterances have created a perception that the variant in SA [South Africa] has been a major factor in the second wave in UK. This is not correct. There is evidence that the UK variant developed earlier than the South African variant," the minister said.
The minister specified that two variants are "completely independent lineages."
The UK has banned entry for passengers traveling from South Africa over the new variant spreading there for 10 days starting from Thursday.