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SA Covid-19 expert listed in Nature’s top 10 people who helped shape science in 2021

Published Jan 10, 2022

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ONE of South Africa’s leading scientists on Covid-19, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, has been listed in Nature’s top 10 people who helped shape science in 2021.

Nature is a weekly international scientific journal that publishes top peer-reviewed international research.

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De Oliveira, a bioinformatician and director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa (CERI), was described by Nature’s editors as a “variant tracker”.

In December, De Oliveira identified the Beta Covid-19 variant which led to a massive spike in cases and the third wave in the country.

The Omicron variant was detected in November 2021 and De Oliveira and his team announced its identification.

Speaking to Nature, the Brazilian-born bioinformatician said he knew that reporting the second variant of concern would bring about travel bans, but he also knew it was the right thing to do.

“The way that one stops a pandemic is by quick action. Wait and see has not been a good option,” he said.

Director of the biomedical research charity Wellcome, Jeremy Farrar, said the rapid identification of the two variants of concern in southern Africa reinforces the importance of having disease surveillance spread evenly around the world.

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“If an imbalance continues, then where disease surveillance is limited, we risk new variants of Covid-19 – or even new diseases entirely – cropping up and spreading unchecked,” he said.

For over 20 years, De Oliveira has been studying viral outbreaks such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, dengue, SARS-CoV-2, Zika and yellow fever.

He has produced more than 200 publications, including over 30 in top scientific journals such as Nature, Science, NEJM and Lancet.

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