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South African Coronavirus Strain Puts Undertakers on Front Lines


SOSHANGUVE, South Africa—Dressed in white protective suits, face masks and plastic goggles, the undertakers pulled up to the one-story home, in which the body of a man in his 80s lay in bed, still in his pajamas.

What they suspected, but hadn’t confirmed, is that the man died of Covid-19, ripped from his family as a new, much more contagious strain of the coronavirus is surging across South Africa and driving daily infections and deaths to record highs.

“Two days ago this person was coughing,” said Christina Broodie, the funeral parlor’s owner, clutching two iPhones that were constantly buzzing with calls from the bereaved. “Now they’re dead.”

A brutal second wave of Covid-19 infections is pounding South Africa, powered in part by a new variant that scientists here say is much more transmissible than previous versions of the virus. The new strain is now by far the most common virus found in positive test samples in the country.

In laboratory experiments, the new variant also managed to escape antibodies generated during a previous bout of Covid-19. Those findings, which still need to be confirmed by additional research, have heightened concerns that the new strain could infect people a second time and make vaccines less effective.


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