South African variant “already circulating in Portugal”

“Unfortunately the national health institute Dr Ricardo Jorge has today detected the presence of the South African variant in Portugal”.

This was the announcement given to RTP earlier this evening by scientist João Paulo Gomes who coordinates studies on the genetic diversity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

“The diagnosis was made in the first days of January”, he said (in other words almost three weeks ago).

Portugal’s DGS health authority is now ‘tracing back all the contacts “to break the chain of transmission”, he added.

For the time being, it sounds like the variant has come in in one single case (ie one arrival into this country),

João Paulo Gomes described it as involving “a South African resident in Lisbon” who arrived back in Portugal “a little after Christmas”.

The South African variant has been described as increasing the virus’ transmissibility by around 50%. There are also concerns that it could be vaccine-resistant (or certainly render current vaccines less effective). The ‘good news’ is that it is not believed to be any more lethal than the usual strain of Covid-19. This is contrary to the British variant – which British prime minister Boris Johnson admitted today “may be more deadly” albeit that it seems to remain responsive to the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Presence of the British variant in Portugal was confirmed shortly after Christmas (click here). According to Público this week, it already accounts for roughly 30,000 infections on national territory.

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