Mkhize warns over two Covid variants ‘of concern’ in South Africa

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said Saturday evening (8 May), that the Network for Genomic Surveillance in SA (NGS-SA) have detected two Covid variants of concern in South Africa.

The NGS-SA is a network of laboratories, scientists and academic institutions that have joined forces to ensure the public health responses to Covid-19 in South Africa have access to the best possible scientific data.

It confirmed that two additional variants, outside of the dominant B.1.351 strain in the country have been detected. These are:

  • B.1.1.7 (first detected in the UK) – 11 cases.
  • B.1.617.2 (first detected in India) – 4 cases.

“In addition, the B.1.351 (first detected here in South Africa) has been sequenced from a patient traveling from Bangladesh,” Mkhize said.

Of the eleven cases of B.1.1.7, eight were detected in the Western Cape – with two having a history of travel from Bahrain, while one was detected in KwaZulu-Natal and two were in Gauteng.

“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,” the minister said.

“As the epidemic progresses, the detection of new variants is inevitable. The work of genomic surveillance assists us to detect the variants and understand their behaviour and to refine vaccines so they remain effective.”

Mkhize said the four cases of the B.1.617.2 variant have been detected in Gauteng (2) and KwaZulu-Natal (2) and all have a history of a recent arrival from India.

“All cases have been isolated and managed according to national Covid-19 case management guidelines and contact tracing has been performed in order to limit the spread of this variant.”

The minister warned that variants can develop at any time in any country. “We reiterate that there is no need for panic, as the fundamentals of the public health response (testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine) have not changed.”

“We are all deeply concerned about the threat of variants of concern and these reports demonstrate that the issue is complicated,” he continued.

“Travel restrictions will need to be balanced against the scientific realities in order to protect the economy. These findings are urgently being processed by government and announcements pertaining to travel regulations will be made after all appropriate consultations have been undertaken by Cabinet.”

On Saturday, Dr Mkhize reported a total of 37 new Covid-19 deaths, taking the total to 54,724. He reported 2,191 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total to 1,594,817 Covid-19 cases, with 1,514,088 recoveries.

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Mkhize warns over two Covid variants ‘of concern’ in South Africa