SA to ramp up testing and vaccine drive after emergence of new Covid-19 variant

Picture: Ian Landsberg African News Agency (ANA)

Picture: Ian Landsberg African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 10, 2023


The Department of Health has been advised to ramp up its testing and vaccination drive following the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant initially discovered in the US.

The department will also step up wastewater testing from local sources as well as aircraft travelling to South Africa from countries where the variant has been detected in recent weeks.

At this stage, South Africa has not imposed a travel ban on China.

Speaking during a media briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the variant had been detected predominantly in the US.

The department clarified that the new variant, XBB.1.5, was discovered in the Western Cape following a random sample that was taken for testing.

The variant was detected at the Stellenbosch University Network for Genomics Surveillance in SA. .

The experts confirmed that there were no increases in cases, deaths or hospitalisations in the country.

Phaahla said a sample was taken for testing and the variant discovered. He explained that while the case was detected in the Western Cape, the patient could have been from anywhere in the country.

Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Dr Michelle Groome, said the latest findings were not surprising.

Groome added that XBB.1.5 may not become a dominant variant.

“Certain subvariants dominated in other countries and that may not be the case in SA. There are quite low levels of this (variant) in Europe at the moment and in other countries. I think we need to realise that each country is different. We have very high levels of population immunity. There are many people in Canada who have been exposed to different variants and subvariants of Omicron since it was first detected,” she said.

Groome added that there was some evidence that the new variant could be more transmissible that previous variants; however, the evidence available at this stage was fairly weak.

She said they were still waiting for more data.

“Even if there is a small increase in transmissibility as with other variants, we have seen that vaccination and prior infection and higher levels of population immunity provide protection against severe disease. So there is no evidence that this variant has any difference in severity or clinical presentation. It has not been causing more hospitalisations,” Groome said.