There are 147 cases of the South African COVID variant in the UK, says health minister

Ross McGuinnessMon, 8 February 2021, 8:08 am

Junior health minister Edward Argar revealed the number of cases of the South African variant in the UK. (BBC)
Junior health minister Edward Argar revealed the number of cases of the South African variant in the UK. (BBC)

There are 147 cases of the South African variant of coronavirus in the UK, the government has said.

Junior health minister Edward Argar revealed the figure on Monday during a television interview.

He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s a very small number but it’s still something we quite rightly have got to keep a very close eye on.”

Argar said later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The latest figures I have, which may be a day or so out, is 147 cases in this country.

Watch: Health minister says South Africa vaccine pause only ‘short-term’ 0:00 0:40   Health Minister: South Africa vaccine pause is only short term

“So it’s still very much not the dominant strain here, the dominant strain here is very much the historic one, the one we’ve been dealing with since last year, and to a large degree the so-called Kent variant.”

In a separate interview with Sky News on Monday, Argar said there is “no evidence” that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is not effective at preventing severe illness from coronavirus, after South Africa put its rollout of the jab on hold following a study which said it only offers “minimal protection” against the country’s new strain.

He said: “There is no evidence that this vaccine is not effective in preventing hospitalisation, severe illness and death, which is ultimately what we’re seeking with these vaccines.”

Argar pointed out that the “dominant strains in this country are not the South African strain”, with “only a small number of cases of that”.

He added that South Africa’s suspension of the rollout of the vaccine is only “temporary” at this stage.

Argar said it “would not be unreasonable” to have annual coronavirus booster jabs to protect against new strains that emerge.

He told Sky News: “What we would all expect is every year we have our flu booster jabs, or our flu jabs, it would not be unreasonable to suggest something similar here.”

The minister said the virus “will always try to outwit us”, adding: “We’ve just got to make sure we get ahead of the game and we outwit it.”

South Africa has one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and was due to start its programme next week before the study by the University of the Witwatersrand, which has not yet been peer reviewed.

South Africa is to offer vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, head of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, said the study could not show that the vaccine is effective against all levels of seriousness of the South African variant.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What the study results really tell us is that, in a relatively young age group demographic – with very low prevalence of morbidities such as hypertension and diabetes etc – the vaccine does not protect against mild to moderate infection.”

He said its effectiveness against serious infection could possibly be extrapolated based on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which uses “similar technology” to Oxford and has similar immune effects.

“Extrapolating from that, there’s still some hope that the AstraZeneca vaccine might well perform as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a different age demographic that are at highest risk of severe disease,” he said.