Wits professor urges SA to urgently test-and-trace to curb spread of new variant

Little is known about the variant, but scientists are theorising that it could be more transmissible than previous variants and vaccines could be less effective against it.

FILE: A Doctors Without Border (MSF) nurse (C) performs a COVID-19 coronavirus test during a Ministry of Health screening and testing drive in the Wolhuter men's hostel in Jeppestown district of Johannesburg, on 14 May 2020. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - A well-known academic is on Friday calling on government to immediately institute a test-and-trace programme in the wake of the emergence of a new COVID variant.

Little is known about the variant, but scientists are theorising that it could be more transmissible than previous variants and vaccines could be less effective against it.

Wit University's professor Alex van den Heever said government had to act fast and ramp up its testing protocols to avoid another potential surge and lockdown.

“You can contain quite a lot of damage through test and trace, particularly when the infection levels are relatively small but when it gets to a certain point, that doesn’t work anymore. That would have been an ideal solution and that may have not had that kind of damage to the economy.”

The new variant was first identified in South Africa and overnight, the UK responded by putting us back on its travel red list, that means South Africans can't go to the UK without quarantining and UK tourists can't come here without quarantining when they get home.

Van Den Heever said the decision clearly hadn't been made on the basis of active cases rather as a precautionary measure against a variant no one had a handle on just yet.

“We need to be engaging very directly with both the UK and the EU because they were potentially reacting to this from a more political light than they were from an evidence-based light.”

WATCH: What we know about the new COVID-19 variant in SA