Pride and punishment follows South Africa’s discovery

Andrew Harding

BBC News, Johannesburg

South Africans have responded sharply to the news that the UK, and a growing list of other countries, have reacted to the emergence of a new Covid variant with red-listings and travel bans.

While there is genuine pride here in the country’s scientific expertise, and the speed with which South Africa has been able to identify and share information about new variants, there is also a strong sense that the nation is being unfairly punished for its successes.

“The world should provide support to South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it,” said Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the Durban-based scientist leading efforts to understand the new variant.

South Africa has a sophisticated monitoring infrastructure that allows it to do the sequencing work effectively.

The variant was first sequenced in neighbouring Botswana, and then in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. That was where a group of students, exactly how many is not known, took PCR tests which all contained an anomaly that prompted experts to send their samples to Prof de Oliviera’s Durban laboratory for genome sequencing.

South Africa’s vaccination programme has slowed in recent months – not because of a lack of supplies, but due to public indifference.

An estimated 42% of the population has had at least one jab. But roughly two-thirds of those aged over 60 have been vaccinated.

The bigger concern is the potential impact of the variant if it spreads to other parts of the continent where, on average, roughly 3% of the population has been vaccinated.

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