Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that South Africa is on high alert amid concerns that new Covid-19 variants could be imported into the country, which could lead to a spike in cases.
In a statement on Tuesday evening (4 May), Mkhize said a number of passengers were found to be carrying different Covid-19 variants at South Africa’s ports of entry over the past week, and the health department is in talks with scientific advisors on how to limit the impact of these variants.
“This increase in detection of cases at the ports of entry is of deep concern to us as government and we have been attending to this as a matter of urgency. We have consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) as well as the genomics team to guide us on the management of travellers at ports of entry during these challenging times.”
Mkhize said that the government will be determining the next steps to follow, and announcements will be made on the state of variants and what measures will be implemented to mitigate against the importation of Covid-19 in general.
He said that the deadly B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India and South Asia, has not been detected in South Africa. Genomics teams are working on some samples, but will require more time before a definitive answer is provided, he said.
“We wish to remind South Africans that the variant B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) remains the most dominant in South Africa and indeed we have had confirmation that one of the samples taken from a traveller from India is the 501Y.V2.
“We remain mindful of the advise from the World Health Organisation that all variants are managed the same – prevention by adhering to NPI’s, early detection, contact tracing and testing and quarantine or isolation.
“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.”
Mkhize said that concerns around variants 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. Our teams remain on high alert to survey, detect and contain spread of Covid-19 in general, with heightened awareness of travellers from countries where VOC’s are dominating.”