South Africa looking at new lockdown measures around Indian and other Covid variants: Mkhize

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that South Africa is largely isolated from the possible importation of the B.1.617 variant circulating in India, but that the country is investigating further measures to protect itself.

Mkhize said that South Africa currently has no direct flights from India and that all its ports of entry employ stringent containment procedures to minimise the importation of Covid-19.

He added that the country is on ‘high alert’ to screen passengers and test those who require further assessment.

“We have not detected the B.1.617 variant as yet in South Africa; however, we have consulted members of the genomics team who have informed us that they have intensified their surveillance – not only to ensure that variant can be detected quickly, but also to understand what the implications are for us in the context of B.1.351 being the dominant variant in South Africa.”

Mkhize said that this work is ongoing and that the government will commit to continue to be guided by science.

“Meanwhile, we have also consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee to advise us on the approach to the management of travellers from countries that have epidemics driven by variants of concern. Their advice will assist us to determine the next steps forward, of which government will announce these determinations in due course.

“For now we ask for calm to prevail as we continue to adhere to the health protocols, tighten containment measures at our ports of entry and keep a balance as we maintain economic activity.”

Modelling data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows that should new variants of the Covid-19 virus be kept at bay, the third wave of Covid-19 will likely peak lower than the second wave – while hospital admissions are also expected to be lower.

However, should a highly transmissible new variant enter the picture, the peak could be the same as the second wave, if not worse. As always, keeping infections and hospital admissions low requires individuals to adhere to restrictions.

The concerns around the importation of variants into the country comes after the Gauteng Department of Health raised red flags about a spike in cases seen in the province.

In a statement published on Monday (3 May), the provincial department said that there was a notable increase in weekly cases in parts of the province including suburbs of Johannesburg, Emfuleni and Tshwane.

Read: Covid-19 third wave warning for South Africa – what to expect

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South Africa looking at new lockdown measures around Indian and other Covid variants: Mkhize