Take Covid-19 variants seriously, have tighter border control– expert

Picture: REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Picture: REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Published May 5, 2021


WESTERN CAPE – International travel plays a large role in spreading Covid-19 virus variants from one corner of the world to another and the introduction of a new variant that is more transmissible into a population that is susceptible and fatigued could bring devastation.

This is according to Professor Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, a microbiologist from York University in Canada who has been tracking variants around the world.

She says any country that has managed to keep its cases relatively low should be very careful and opt for a tight border entrance.

“In general, if border closure is not possible, for many reasons such as physically impossible and economically not viable, then public health measures and vaccination become key to keeping any variants under control,” she said.

First identified in India, the B.1.617 coronavirus variant is attributed to have been the driving force behind the country’s second wave.

India has recorded over 20.7 million Covid-19 cases and 226 000 deaths.

Senior lecturer from the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University, Dr Jo Barnes says the variant has already been found in 17 other countries, including Uganda, Germany, the UK and US.

“The longer this explosive stage of the pandemic in India is raging out of control with slow implementation of vaccination, the higher the risk that several other dangerous variants will appear. As far as dangerous variants are concerned, the world is a small and interconnected space,” she said.

Golemi-Kotra said as of yet there are no conclusive reports that the variant — often referred to as ‘double mutant’ — presents different symptoms or causes more severe disease. However, it is expected to spread faster and be more transmissible.

“So far, we have seen variants that can be devastating as a result of being more transmissible and better at escaping immunity (vaccine-induced or naturally-acquired immunity),” she said.

In a press release on Tuesday evening, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed that the B.1.617 variant has not been detected in South Africa.

“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,” he said.

“We remain mindful of the advice from the World Health Organization that all variants are managed the same- prevention by adhering to NPI’s, early detection, contact tracing and testing and quarantine or isolation.”

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