South Africa's Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize on Friday rejected his British counterpart's claim that a new coronavirus variant in the country is more contagious or dangerous than a similar one spreading the UK, reported AFP.
In a statement, Mkhize said, "At present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 (variant) is more transmissible than the United Kingdom variant -- as suggested by the British Health Secretary."
He added, "There is also no evidence that (it) causes more severe disease or increased mortality than the UK variant or any variant that has been sequenced around the world."
Britain's Matt Hancock, while announcing restrictions on travel from South Africa, had said that the variant there was "highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further" than the similar strain in Britain.
According to Mkhize, Hancock's words "have created a perception that the variant in SA has been a major factor in the second wave in UK."
Mkhize pointed to evidence that the British strain, which bears a similar mutation to the South African one, appeared as early as September in southeastern county Kent -- "approximately a month before the South African variant appears to have developed."
Citing "the widely shared view of the scientific community," Mkhize also argued that "the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits".
"Banning travel between UK and SA is an unfortunate decision," he added.
South Africa is the country hit hardest by coronavirus on the continent, with close to one million infections so far and 26,000 people dead.
Around 14,000 positive cases were detected on each of the past two days, compared with between 8,000 and 10,000 earlier this week.
Mkhize said on Wednesday that new restrictions could be necessary to slow the virus spread.