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Africa’s Worst-hit Nation Prepares for a Possible New Onslaught of Cases

South African officials say two highly contagious variants of coronavirus are now present in the country. Officials from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced late Sunday that they have detected the B.1.617.2 and B.1.1.7 variants among the South African population. With just under 1.6 million confirmed cases, South Africa leads the continent in coronavirus infections. Of those, nearly 55,000 people have died. “It is not surprising that new variants have been detected in South Africa,” said Adrian Puren, the institute’s acting director. “We would like to assure the public that the institute is focusing their resources and research efforts towards understanding the variants and what the potential implications are for South Africa.” South African officials said in a statement that all four known cases of this variant “have been isolated and managed.” and that contract tracing was underway. B.1.617.2 is among the variants currently circulating in India, where the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center says 22.6 million COVID-19 cases have been reported — though health experts have warned that they believe both cases and deaths are being underreported in India. Officials with the institute said they are now giving higher priority to positive samples from travelers entering South Africa, especially those coming from India.