South Africa on Friday rejected the United Kingdom’s claim that a new coronavirus strain that emerged in the country was more dangerous.

“We have consulted with our genomics team who have assured us that, at present, there is no evidence that the 501.V2 is more transmissible than the UK variant – as suggested by British Health Secretary,” the country’s health department said in an official statement. “There is also no evidence that the 501.V2 causes more severe disease.”

On Wednesday, announcing restrictions on travel from South Africa, UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said that the variant there was “more transmissible and mutated further” than the strain in his country, reported AFP. Last week, a new strain was detected in UK, which was found to be 70% more transmissible than previous variants. Since then, more than 50 countries, including India, have imposed travel restrictions on the UK. India has suspended flights from the UK till December 31. With the Centre’s new guidelines, several hundred passengers were tested at various airports in India.

Dismissing Hancock’s claims, South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Friday pointed out that the UK strain, which bears a similar mutation to the South African one, appeared as early as September in British southeastern county Kent, which he claimed was “approximately a month before the South African variant appears to have developed”.

He also termed the decision to ban travel between the UK and South Africa as an “unfortunate decision”, suggesting that the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits.

South Africa has so far recorded 9,68,563 cases of coronavirus cases and a total of 25,983 deaths due to the pandemic. Globally, Covid-19 has infected more than 7.93 crore people and killed over 17.41 lakh, according to the Johns Hopkins University. Over 4.46 crore people have recovered from the infection.

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