Variants develop anytime, don’t need to be imported - Mkhize
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Health experts call on South Africa to not be lax about Covid-19 preventative measures following the detection of two variants in South Africa.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced on Saturday evening that the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) confirmed that two variants of concern were detected, the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India and B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the UK.
The minister said four cases of B.1.617.2 were detected in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, while 11 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant were found in South Africa.
National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) acting executive director Professor Adrian Puren said yesterday that it was not surprising that new variants have been detected in South Africa.
“We would like to assure the public that the institute is focusing their resources and research efforts towards understanding the variants and what the potential implications are for South Africa,” Puren said.
Each of the reported B.1.617.2 cases all have history of recent arrival from India and, of the11 cases of B.1.1.7, eight were detected in the Western Cape (with two having a history of travel from Bahrain), one was detected in KwaZulu-Natal and two were detected in Gauteng.
The department said all cases have been isolated and managed according to national Covid-19 case management guidelines and contact tracing has been performed to limit the spread of this variant.
Mkhize added that the B.1.1.7 has been detected in community samples and this therefore suggests that community transmission of B.1.1.7 has already set in.
Head of the division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD, Dr Michelle Groome, said that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of Covid-19 positive samples from travellers entering the country, from India specifically and their close contacts.
Mkhize said as the epidemic progresses, the detection of new variants is inevitable.
“It is important to emphasise that variants can develop at any time in any country so they do not have to be imported,” he said.
The minister further reiterated that there was no need to panic, as the fundamentals of the public health response, such as testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, have not changed.
“We all have a responsibility to adhere to prevention measures (avoiding large gatherings, physical distancing, mask wearing, ventilation and hand sanitation) in order to limit the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa,” Mkhize said.
He added that the world was still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, with surges in one territory bound to spillover into other territories.
“We are all deeply concerned about the threat of variants of concern and these reports demonstrate that the issue is complicated.”
Mkhize said travel restrictions would need to be balanced against the scientific realities to protect the economy.
“We understand that many are suffering from Covid-19 fatigue, and becoming lax in exercising preventative measures. But for the sake of yourselves and your loved ones, wash or sanitise your hands, wear your masks and maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from others,” Puren added.