DURBAN - WITH the Covid-19 crisis in India worsening due to their second wave, there has been a lot of talk about Covid-19 variants, especially the one dominant in India, B.1.617.
The World Health Organization (WHO) listed the B.1.617 variant, first detected in India, as a Sars-CoV-2 variant of concern.
Preliminary modelling by WHO, based on sequences submitted to Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID), suggests that B.1.617 has a higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility, with other co-circulating variants also demonstrating increased transmissibility.
National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) principal medical scientist Dr Jinal Bhiman said all variants could be distinguished from each other using viral sequencing.
Bhiman said viral sequencing or genomic surveillance was what allowed for the identification of variants.
“Ideally, routine and regular genomic surveillance allows for the detection of new variants. However, no system works independently, so in general, communication between clinicians, testing laboratories, epidemiologists and scientists ensure that this process occurs rapidly,” Bhiman said.
She said new variants were assigned using three systems, GISAID, Nextstrain and PANGOLin. Each of these systems had their own websites which listed and described these variants.
On Wednesday, DA Home Affairs spokesperson Angel Khanyile urged the government to immediately impose travel curbs on travellers from India – including stopping direct and connecting flights from India to South Africa, as well as seaports and land borders.
This was in light of India’s battle to combat various variants of Covid-19 including the “dangerous” B.1.617.
“Only repatriation flights should be allowed from India to transport South Africans back home. Repatriation should also be on the strict condition of a mandatory self-quarantine for two weeks or by producing a negative Covid-19 test that was taken after arrival in South Africa, not before leaving,” said Khanyile.
Her statement came after Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize issued a statement on detected cases of Covid19 at South African ports of entry.
“We confirm that the B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India, has not been detected, however, the genomics teams are working on some samples and we will need to allow the time it takes to sequence before we get an answer,” said Mkhize.
He said one of the samples taken from a traveller from India was the 501Y.V2 variant.
Mkhize said there were three air travellers from India via Doha on two separate occasions (one on April 21 and the other two on April 25), on Qatar Airlines and through King Shaka International Airport.
He said all three were in isolation and two of them were asymptomatic.
Port Health Services provided details of close contacts and the NICD has overseen the cases for sample collection, contact tracing and intensified surveillance. “This increase in detection of cases at the ports of entry is of deep concern to us,” said Mkhize.