Covid-19: Calls for India travel ban premature, says health expert
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Johannesburg - The government has yet to determine whether travelling linked to India should be banned, despite outcries from concerned citizens about rising Covid-19 cases in the south-Asian country.
The health department has moved to reassure citizens that there are currently no direct flights from India to South Africa.
This is after South Africans messaged the government calling for flights from the country to be banned.
Coronavirus cases have been rising alarmingly in India over the past couple of weeks. As a result, countries such as the US and the UK have banned any form of travel from the country.
It is suspected that a variant of the coronavirus, B.1.617, is circulating in India and may be behind the second wave of the pandemic.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said healthcare agencies were on high alert, and the variant first identified in India has not been found in the country.
He added that the Ministerial Advisory Committee has been asked to advise the department on the management of travellers from countries whose rising Covid-19 cases were being driven by variants.
“Their advice will assist us to determine the next steps forward, of which the government will announce in due cause. For now, we ask for calm to prevail,” Mkhize said.
Health expert Dr Aslam Dasoo, from the Progressive Health Forum, has echoed similar sentiments, saying calls for travel from India to be banned were premature.
“The knee-jerk reaction of fear is not called for at this point. People should calm down - the minister is correct,” Dasoo said.
He said that banning flights or travel from India would be difficult in South Africa, as the country had quite loose borders. Another issue was that it has yet to be determined whether the variant first identified in India was driving a rise in cases in that country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the B.1.617 variant as a category of interest, and further investigations had to be conducted to determine how infectious it is.
“It is impractical to try and ban flights. We have weak borders. People can enter from various border posts who might have been to India.
“To the extent that we have screening capabilities, we should deploy those. On a broader level, the variant first identified in India has been designated by the WHO as a variant of interest. The variants found in South Africa and the UK are variants of concern. There is a distinction. Variants of concern have been shown to increase transmission and infection in some cases. But variants of interests are still under investigation,” he said.
Dasoo indicated that the rise in cases in India was a matter of concern and was a reminder that the pandemic remains a worry.
The WHO last week said the world had seen as many coronavirus cases reported than it had in the first five months of the pandemic last year, Dasoo said.
University of Cape Town organic chemistry Professor Kelly Chibale said the second wave outbreak in India was a reminder that we should let down our guard.
“What has happened in India is a reminder that we should not let our guard down. The guard was let down in India. There can be fatigue that we can lose the momentum to continue with surveillance. All it can take is a new variant, virus strain. Let us not let our guard down. Let's keep searching, testing,” Chibale said.
Meanwhile, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said it was also keeping an eye on the B.1.617 coronavirus variant.