The KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) will receive R25-million in funding to investigate the new COVID-19 variant. The funds will be provided by the Department of Science and Innovation, as announced by Minister Blade Nzimande on Friday, December 18.
“This was in the wake of the latest surveillance results that shows a worrying trend of the highly transmittable Covid-19 variant first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape, and moved to the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and is now the dominant and possibly the only COVID-19 variant responsible for the current surge,” said the Department.
According to Nzimande, the total budget is R45-million, but R25-million of this will be used over the course of the next 12 months to help scientists complete the sequencing of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) 10 000 genomes in South Africa and Africa.
The coronavirus variant, which is believed to be spreading through South Africa very rapidly, is called 501.V2.
Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize has noted that this variant is affecting a larger proportion of younger patients with no comorbidities, and they are developing serious illness as a result.
“The evidence that has been collated, therefore, strongly suggests that that the current second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant,” Mkhize explained in a public briefing on Friday, December 18.
Nzimande added that scientists will be working hard to understand COVID-19 and its other lineages on the continent, and the fund will help this happen while supporting both laboratory and clinical investigations of the genomic variant found in the country.
“This is in line with the use of pathogen genomics for monitoring of transmission dynamics of infectious agents and potential vaccine escape is of crucial importance to South Africa, Africa and the world,” Nzimande said.
Part of the funds will also be used to purchase equipment to automate the sequencing system and buy reagents.
Meanwhile, the minister said the next step is to get a better understanding of whether there is any clinical and epidemiological evidence to suggest increased transmissibility and/or pathogenicity of the virus and/or vaccine escape.