On December 18, 2020, national authorities in South Africa announced the detection of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is rapidly spreading in three provinces of South Africa. South Africa has named this variant 501Y.V2, because of an N501Y mutation. While SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 from the UK also has the N501Y mutation, phylogenetic analysis has shown that 501Y.V2 from south African are different virus variants. In the week beginning November 16, routine sequencing by South African health authorities found that this new SARS-CoV-2 variant has largely replaced other SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
While genomic data highlighted that the 501.V2 variant rapidly displaced other lineages circulating in South Africa and preliminary studies suggest the variant is associated with a higher viral load, which may suggest the potential for increased transmissibility, this, as well as other factors that influence transmissibility, are subject to further investigation. At this stage, there is no clear evidence of the new variant being associated with more severe disease or worse outcomes.
Further investigation is needed to understand the impact on transmission, clinical severity of infection, laboratory diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, or public health preventive measures. As of December 30, 2020, the 501Y.V2 variant from South Africa has been reported in four other countries. Stay calm, stay tuned, and be sure you are following recommended infection control practices at all times. Stay the course, stay well, mask up and stay tuned!