Experts believe new Covid-19 variant is responsible for spike in Gauteng cases
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DURBAN – Experts believe that a newly discovered Covid-19 variant is behind a spike in Gauteng's infections.
Gauteng's case numbers have increased substantially in the last week. On Wednesday, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NCID) said the province had contributed to 80% of the country's Covid case count.
According to eNCA, the variant B.1.1.529 was found in Botswana and Hong Kong and had an extremely hight number of mutations. The case reported in Hong Kong was from a traveller who had come to the country from South Africa.
Speaking during a media briefing on Thursday, infectious diseases specialist, Richard Lessells, said epidemiological data suggested that a sustained increase in Covid-19 incidence across Gauteng, possibly fuelled by cluster outbreaks.
He said the new variant was detected in multiple samples across Gauteng.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp), said the good news was that the new variant can be detected quickly.
"We can make some predictions about the impact of the mutations and we are making many here from our scientific knowledge during this pandemic. But the full significance remains uncertain in the vaccines (as a) critical tool to protect us against disease," he said.
The NICD said that it was not surprised at the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant.
The organisation’s acting executive director, Professor Adrian Puren, said although data was limited, experts were working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be.
"Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date," he said.
Puren said 22 positive cases of variant B.1.1.529 have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing collaborations between the NICD and private laboratories.
He said in addition, other NGS-SA laboratories are confirming more cases as sequencing results come out.
Puren explained that detected cases and percentage testing positive were both increasing quickly, particularly in Gauteng, the North West and Limpopo.
Head of the NDID’s division of Public Health Surveillance and Response, Dr Michelle Groome, said that provincial health authorities remained on high alert and were prioritising the sequencing of Covid-19 positive samples.
"Regardless of the emergence of new Covid-19 variants, the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions remains unchanged and the public are urged to be responsible.
“This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practise healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and gather in well-ventilated spaces. Individual compliance to preventative measures can have a great collective impact in limiting the spread of the new variant,” Groome said.