Mkhize questions travel ban on South Africa as cases hit daily record

By Pauline Bax and Paul Burkhardt

(Bloomberg) — South Africa’s government rejected allegations that a new variant of the coronavirus found in the country has contributed to a second wave of infections in the U.K. and criticized its decision to impose travel restrictions.

A new virus variant that was detected in the U.K. has a mutation occurring at a site common with the South African strain, known as 501.V2, but they are “two completely independent lineages,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement late Thursday. There’s no evidence that 501.V2 causes more severe disease or increased mortality than any other variant that’s been sequenced around the world, he said.

Mkhize’s comments came a day after UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that flights from South Africa will be banned and that anyone who’s been there in the past two weeks must quarantine immediately.

Several other countries have also halted flights from South Africa.

The new UK strain was identified about a month before the South African variant appeared to have developed, Mkhize said, citing ongoing research by the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, which was launched in June. He described Hancock’s announcement as “unfortunate.”

“It is the widely shared view of the scientific community that, given the current circumstantial evidence, the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits, and that it is possible to contain the variants while sustaining international travel,” Mkhize said. “We, therefore, maintain that non-pharmaceutical interventions and strict containment measures remain most important to reduce the risk of transmission.”

Coronavirus infections in South Africa have surged since the government eased most restrictions several months ago, and a second wave is now coinciding with the summer holidays. The Health Ministry registered a record 14,305 new cases on Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 968,563.

Experts in South Africa lead the field of genomics surveillance alongside those from institutions in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, and have shared all information on the evolution of the coronavirus with the World Health Organization, Mkhize said.

In other Covid-19 news:

South Africa sees another daily record

South Africa reported record daily infections for a third straight day, with 14,796 new cases, the health ministry said late Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 983,359.

The government rejected allegations that a new variant in the country had spurred a second wave in the U.K., and criticized its decision to impose travel restrictions. Several other countries have also halted flights from South Africa.

Tokyo reports record daily cases

Japan’s capital reported a record 949 new Covid-19 cases Saturday, the first time the daily caseload has been above 900. Tokyo is on the highest alert level as infections have continued to rise despite authorities’ efforts to contain the virus, prompting Governor Yuriko Koike to call on residents to refrain from making unnecessary outings.

Golf great Greg Norman hospitalised with Covid

Australian golfer Greg Norman suggested he’s a victim of Covid-19 in a post on Instagram. Photos on Norman’s Instagram account showed him in what appears to be a medical facility.

The 65-year-old earlier posted a video on Instagram saying he was experiencing coronavirus symptoms. Norman’s son, Greg Norman J., also said on social media that he tested positive, the Associated Press reported. The Normans played in the father-son PNC Championship in Orlando, Florida, last weekend, the AP said.

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