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South Africa to ramp up Covid-19 sequencing


Concern over virus variants opens strained public purse

South Africa will invest millions of Rand in local sequencing work to detect possible novel coronavirus variants, the science minister has announced.

Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, science, and technology, said R25 million (US$1.7m) will be awarded to the KwaZulu-Natal Research Informatics and Sequencing Platform over the next 12 months. 

“The funding will be used to understand the spread of Covid-19 and other virus lineages in Africa, and to support clinical and laboratory investigations of genomic variations in the country,” said Nzimande, who gave a news conference on 18 January on Covid-19 related matters.

Nzimande praised the scientists at KRISP who discovered the new, more infectious virus variant dubbed “501Y.V2”. He revealed that the DSI has so far spent R69m on Covid-19 research.

He said the Department of Science and Innovation is working on a strategy to reduce the country’s vulnerability to “pandemic outbreaks”, as well as setting up a panel of scientists to communicate with the public on vaccination, the new variant and other pandemic-related issues.

Also on the cards is a meeting of social scientists and humanities researchers to deal with the psychological and social impacts of the pandemic on families and communities.