By Alexander Winning
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -New coronavirus infections in South Africa appear to be dominated by the Delta variant that was first identified in India, scientists said on Saturday as a third wave sweeps the hard-hit African country.
South Africa is the continent's worst-affected nation in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths, accounting for roughly a third of confirmed infections and more than 40% of deaths.
But the rollout of vaccines has been slow, with just 2.7 million administered so far out of a population of 60 million.
The country's second coronavirus wave was driven by the Beta variant first detected locally, but the Delta variant now looks to be leading new infections, specialists said.
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"A new variant seems to be not only arising, but it seems to start dominating the infections in South Africa," Professor Tulio de Oliveira at the University of KwaZulu-Natal told a news conference.
"It completely took over," he said, adding that the Delta variant was more transmissible even than the Beta variant.
De Oliveira said there appeared to be community transmission of the Delta variant in KwaZulu-Natal province and that scientists were analysing the data for Gauteng, the province where the biggest city Johannesburg is located.
South Africa recorded more than 18,000 new infections on Friday, with 215 deaths.
Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told the news conference it was now likely that the peak of the third wave would surpass that of the second wave in January, when more than 21,000 new daily cases were recorded.
A government statement said a flurry of meetings would take place on Saturday and Sunday to consider measures to respond to the Delta variant and the ongoing surge in infections.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation at 8 p.m. local time (1800 GMT) on Sunday.
(Reporting by Alexander WinningEditing by Helen Popper and Mark Potter)