Delta variant of Covid-19 extinguishes Beta in South Africa, study shows

A healthcare worker briefs people queueing for their vaccines at the Springs Train Station outside of Johannesburg, on Aug 25, 2021.
A healthcare worker briefs people queueing for their vaccines at the Springs Train Station outside of Johannesburg, on Aug 25, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

PRETORIA (BLOOMBERG) - The more infectious nature of the Delta mutation of the coronavirus has seen it almost completely displace the Beta variant in South Africa, the discovery of which led to widespread travel bans.

A study, released by two South African genomics institutes on Thursday (Sept 23), showed that the Delta variant, first identified in India, drove a third wave of infections in the country. Excess death data show that about a quarter of million people may have died from the virus.

"The dominance of Delta was consistently observed through increased genomic surveillance during the third wave, with the detection of Beta drastically decreasing to almost none in the last weeks," the scientists said in the report.

The study will add fuel to a political stand-off between South Africa and Britain, which this month kept the African nation on its so-called red list that imposes costly and time consuming restrictions on travel between the countries.

Britain is the biggest source of foreign tourists for South Africa.

Britain cited the Beta variant as a reason for its decision, leading to accusations from scientists and politicians that it was failing to follow scientific data.

The scientists from the the centres at Stellenbosch University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal estimated that the Delta variant is 46 per cent more transmissible than Beta.

"The degree to which the growth advantage of Delta is mediated by inherent increased transmissibility and/or immune evasion cannot be determined," the scientists said.