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Inside South African Virology Labs: Hunting for the Next Variant

  • AHRI was first to isolate beta variant, now chasing omicron
  • Expertise comes from decades of fighting HIV and tuberculosis
Technicians work inside a biosafety level 3 Covid-19 research laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa.
Technicians work inside a biosafety level 3 Covid-19 research laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa.Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

As the port city of Durban eases into South Africa’s annual summer holiday season, scientists at a virology laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute are working around the clock.

The discovery of the omicron Covid-19 variant by South African and Botswanan scientists last month has lent urgency to efforts to isolate the virus and test its ability to evade vaccines the world is pinning its hopes on to end a two-year pandemic.