Coronavirus – South Africa: Joint statement on the results of the Russian-South African scientific mission to study the characteristics of a novel coronavirus infection

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A Russian-South African scientific mission to study the clinical and epidemiological characteristics of the novel coronavirus infection caused by the genetic variant omicron (hereinafter referred to as the Mission) was organized in accordance with the agreement between the Presidents of Russia and of the Republic of South Africa and took place in South Africa from December 13 to 22, 2021.

On the Russian side, 20 leading scientists and experts from Rospotrebnadzor and the Russian Ministry of Health took part in the mission, including representatives from the Rospotrebnadzor Central Epidemiological Research Institute, Russian Research Institute “Microbe” of Rospotrebnadzor, State Scientific Institute Center of Virology and Biotechnology “Vector” of Rospotrebnadzor, Volgograd Research Institute of Rospotrebnadzor, etc.

From the Republic of South Africa, eminent scientists and experts from the Department of Health, the South African Council for Medical Research, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, the National Network of Health Laboratories, the He University of Stellenbosch, University of Durban, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke University Hospital in Johannesburg, and Jubilee District Hospital in Gauteng Province took part in the mission.

During the mission, the parties organized three working groups (epidemiological, virological and clinical) and consulted on the full range of issues related to the fight against the novel coronavirus, including characteristics related to the omicron variant. in the fields of epidemiology, laboratory diagnosis, virological surveillance. , immunology, clinical features and treatment of infection.

The consultations were held in a spirit of openness, scientific interest and with emphasis on the development of both bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the fight against infectious diseases within the BRICS.

RSA scientists provided information on the epidemiological situation, the organization of the laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19, genetic monitoring, the evaluation of the characteristics of the “omicron” strain of SARS-CoV-2. There was an opportunity to learn the structure of the country’s health system, the patient triage algorithm and the national medical care protocol for patients with COVID-19, level I-III
hospitals in Gauteng province.

Visits were organized to central and district medical institutions and diagnostic laboratories in Johannesburg and Pretoria. South African scientists shared information on the characteristics of the identification and differentiation of the new ‘omicron’ variant from other variants circulating in the population, including on the basis of clinical data.

Russian scientists shared their experience in combating new coronavirus infections, organizing epidemiological surveillance, studying the genetic characteristics of the infectious agent of coronavirus infection, assessing immune status people infected and vaccinated for protection against new genetic variants of the coronavirus.

Participants in the joint mission discussed the characteristics of a novel coronavirus infection caused by the omicron strain and its impact on the spread of infection, the severity of the clinical course, medical care and vaccination. During the mission, data were obtained on the epidemiological characteristics of the new genetic variant and the characteristics of its distribution in RSA. The increased transmissibility of the omicron variant from person to person has been demonstrated, leading to an increase in incidence (the baseline reproduction rate rose to 2.5 in December, doubling the time from 3.18 to 3.61 days) and an increase in the positive sampling rate to 35.5% with no indication of a more severe clinical course.

It is worth noting that given the large number of South African residents who have had COVID-19 and demographic differences, the data on clinical severity can be adjusted under the conditions of the spread of the omicron variant in the Russian Federation. .

It was noted that young age groups play an important role in the initial stage of the spread of infection. The densely populated district of Tshwane, which includes the capital Pretoria and which is close to the economic center of Johannesburg, has also been shown to be the location of the first groups of transmission of the genetic variant “omicron”.

A phylogenetic lineage independent of the “delta” and “beta” variants and the possibility of using the genotyping PCR test for the rapid identification of a new variant of the SARSCoV-2 virus gene has been convincingly demonstrated. There is a high incidence of SARS-CoV2 infection in younger patients, especially in children in the initial stages (up to 50% of all patients seeking medical attention for various reasons are infected), characteristics influenza clinics, a large number of asymptomatic cases and seropositivity of the population up to 70% in the RSA.

The course of the disease is more severe in unvaccinated people with risk factors, especially in older groups, the high frequency (15-20% in total) of re-infection and infection in vaccinated people is characterized by a lighter evolution. During the mission, Russian specialists gave a presentation of the Rospotrebnadzor mobile laboratory which is mounted on an automobile chassis. The possibilities of its joint use for epizootological surveillance of dangerous infections in remote areas of South Africa were discussed.

Based on the results of the joint mission, the participants agreed to:

  • Taking into account the need to develop bilateral scientific cooperation in the field of epidemic control;
  • Noting the contribution that scientists from Russia and RSA are making to global efforts to combat the pandemic of novel coronavirus infection;
  • Expressing its commitment to the protection of public health as the main objective of the fight against the pandemic;
  • Stressing that anti-epidemic measures should be scientifically justified, noted that:

The level of surveillance of a new coronavirus infection in South Africa has made it possible to quickly identify a new genetic variant of concern, called omicron, and to inform the international community of the risks associated with its spread; The study of the epidemiological characteristics, clinical characteristics, molecular and genetic properties of circulating pathogens and the cooperation of existing national and regional sequencing networks underpin the identification of new viral variants with high epidemic potential;

Studies on the effectiveness of immunological protection both after vaccination and after previous disease or their combination show that compared to the initial variant, the degree of neutralization of the omicron variant is reduced from 3 to 41 times, depending on the immunological status . Thus, the disease, followed by vaccination or revaccination, is likely to increase the effectiveness of neutralization
and provide protection against the severe course of the disease when infected with the “omicron” variant;

Scientific cooperation and data exchange serve as the basis for science-based decision-making, including restrictions on cross-border movements. Given the global spread of the omicron variant, which has already been identified in 94 countries around the world, and newly obtained data on the danger of a new genetic variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the new air traffic ban included Between
states lost its relevance;

Openness, commitment to a common task to combat the coronavirus infection pandemic and close cooperation between scientists from the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Africa give confidence in the fastest victory global pandemic science;

Scientists from the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Africa intensify the exchange of data and research results in the fields of epidemiology, virology, immunology, pathogenesis and treatment new coronavirus infections. As a result of the joint mission, other areas of scientific cooperation in the field of epidemic prevention and response were identified and a draft roadmap for scientific cooperation between Russia and the RSA in this area. for 2022-2024 has been developed.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of the South African government.