South Africa on high alert, following concern over new COVID-19 variants

In a statement on Tuesday evening, 4 May 2021, he explained, “We confirm that the B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India, has not been detected; however, 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.”

National Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize claims South Africa’s remains on high alert, following concerns that new variants of COVID-19 could possibly be brought into the country and lead to a spike in cases.

The Health Minister assured South Africans, teams remain vigilant and continue to survey, detect and contain the spread of COVID-19 in general—with a heightened awareness of travellers from countries where variants of concern (VOCs) are dominating. The biggest concern surrounds the COVID-19 strain currently circulating in India, wreaking substantial havoc.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, 4 May 2021, he explained, “We confirm that the B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India, has not been detected; however, 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.”

Mkhize claims he has also noted the concern expressed by South Africans over the possible recent importation of VOCs. “This has been a difficult area during the COVID-19 pandemic, which can often drive exclusion, mistrust and sometimes even racist rhetoric. We share our people’s concerns but wish to reassure South Africans that we are a very capable nation that knows how to deal with the burden of a variant of concern,” he said.

The Minister reminded South Africans that variant B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) remains the most dominant in South Africa.

One of the samples taken from a traveller from India was the 501Y.V2. Therefore, the health minister stressed, “We remain mindful of the advice from the World Health Organisation that all variants are managed the same: prevention by adhering to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), early detection, contact tracing and testing, and quarantine or isolation.”

He points out that these all form part of the regulations that govern the management of COVID-19, and it has been through adherence to these regulations that we have detected and contained COVID-19 cases at ports of entry.

While admitting that a recent increase in the detection of cases at the ports of entry is of deep concern for the government, Dr Mkhize emphasises the government has been attending to this as a matter of urgency. “We have consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee as well as the genomics team to guide us on the management of travellers at ports of entry during these challenging times.”

Furthermore, he highlights the government will be determining the next steps to follow, and announcements will be made of variants of concern in their context and what measures will be implemented to mitigate against the importation of COVID-19 in general.

Whether this means stricter lockdown regulations, remain to be seen.

To date, over a 1.5million people in South Africa have been infected with the virus, with the total death toll standing at over 54 511.

According to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, the Amajuba District has recorded more than 12 400 COVID-19 cases, with just over 600 deaths.

With concern regarding new variants possibly being imported into the country, what are your thoughts? 

Share your views with us in the comment section below.

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