Nardus Engelbrecht

SA variant makes first showing, UK variant 'circulating in the community'

The South African variant of coronavirus has been detected in Belgium for the first time.  In addition 8 new cases of the British variant have been diagnosed by Leuven University’s testing lab. 

Leuven virologist Marc Van Ranst says the British variant is clearly on the march in Belgium.  “The number of cases started growing at the end of 2020.  It occurs among people who travelled and people who did not.  It is starting to circulate.  The first case of the South African variant was diagnosed in a patient from West Flanders, who had not travelled”.

“Everybody is worried because they are more contagious.  The measures we have to keep variants out at the minute are insufficient, but we need to try.  This is the beginning.  The British variant is not yet the dominant variant.  We need to ensure people travelling to Belgium for under 48 hours are tested and quarantine.  Stricter checks are needed at the border.  Many counties are realising this.”

Belgian health minister Vandenbroucke (Flemish socialist) has confirmed that eight clusters of cases involving the British variant have been discovered in Antwerp Province alone.  In all 18 individuals are concerned, research undertaken at Antwerp University showed.  The clusters were identified as part of a pilot project homing in on the British variant that is now also being expanded to Brussels.

Five of the clusters showed connections with Lebanon, Switzerland, the UK and Dubai, but no travel was involved in three clusters.

“The British variant is circulating here and there isn’t always a link to travel.  This should make us worried.  We are facing a new danger.”

Mr Vandenbroucke said analysis of samples and providing follow-up to patients must be speeded up. He added that basic hygiene measures could also stop the new variant.

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