Tuesday, 04 May 2021

Pretoria: South Africa’s teams remain on high alert to survey, detect and contain the spread of COVID-19 in general, with heightened awareness of travellers from countries where variants of concern (VOCs) are dominating.

“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,” Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, said on Tuesday.

Mkhize has 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 the variant B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) remains the most dominant in South Africa.

One of the samples taken from a traveller from India is the 501Y.V2.

“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.

“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,” the Minister said.

Recently increasing activities have been reported as follow:

Durban

Three air travellers arrived from India, via Doha, on two separate occasions (one arrived on 21 April 2021 on Qatar Airlines – QR1367, and two arrived on 25 April 2021 on Qatar Airlines – QR1367) — all through King Shaka International Airport.

“The first passenger subsequently took ill and remains in isolation at a health care facility, whilst the other two passengers are currently asymptomatic and in isolation at paid lodgings.

“Port Health has provided details of passengers, who were close contacts and National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has overseen the cases for sample collection, contact tracing and intensified surveillance,” the Minister said.

On 1 May 2021, a death on board an approaching vessel was reported to Port Health by the South African Police Service (SAPS), the assistant harbour master and the vessel agent.

The vessel had departed India on 18 April 2021 and berthed at Maydon Wharf on 2 May 2021 with the deceased.

The body was subsequently transported to a State mortuary for a post mortem. Due to sampling difficulties, authorities still await the PCR test result.

“However, contact tracing proceeded for 21 crew members. Of these, 14 have been detected with COVID-19 and seven have tested negative,” the Minister said.

As all the members are asymptomatic, it was elected to keep all the crew on board in appropriate quarantine or isolation conditions.

“The vessel has been secured and is currently under strict security in its berth until authorities decide to move it to the outer anchorage under strict security until the containment period is successfully completed.

“We thank eThekwini Metro, through eThekwini Centre for Disease Control, for ably managing these incidents and swiftly mobilising the containment measures at municipal level,” the Minister said.

Gqeberha

On 25 April 2021, a vessel that had departed from Mombasa, Kenya, berthed in Gqeberha some 12 days after departure.

“The ship was granted access based on a report by the shipmaster that there were no reported illnesses on board. The following day, the shipmaster reported an ill crew member, who was immediately transferred out of the ship to a health care facility.

“The ill crew member, together with three other crew members who were due to depart by air to their home country, were immediately subjected to PCR tests on 26 April 2021,” the Minister said.

Upon testing positive for COVID-19, these crew members were subsequently isolated at paid lodgings.

Port Health, together with Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA), instructed the shipping agency to proceed with contact tracing and testing processes, with 20 crew members on board subjected to PCR tests.

A further 10 crew members have been detected with COVID-19 and are isolating for 10 days at designated facilities.

The other 10 members that tested negative will remain in quarantine on the ship.

The Minister said the officials of the Nelson Mandela Bay Health District will be responsible for monitoring the crew who are in isolation and complete the containment measures.

The vessel has been similarly secured in port to ensure that there is no unauthorised access to and from the vessel.

“It is deeply unfortunate that the master of the vessel is found to have made a false declaration regarding the health status of the vessel and crew. SAPS has activated consequence management procedures and engaged the State prosecutor. We wish to put on record this ship was bound for India and it had not departed from India,” Mkhize said.

The Minister expressed concern at the increase in detection of cases at ports of entry.

“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.

“Government will be determining the next steps to follow and announcements will be made on the state of variants of concern in our context and what measures will be implemented to mitigate the importation of COVID-19 in general.” the Minister said.