Tuesday, 04 May 2021

Pretoria: Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has assured the public that South Africa is on high alert for the B.1.617 Coronavirus variant.

“All our ports of entry employ stringent containment procedures to minimise the importation of COVID-19,” he said, adding that government remained on high alert to screen passengers and test those who require further assessment.

He said while the variant was yet to be detected in South Africa, members of the genomics team had informed government that they had intensified surveillance to not only ensure detection of the virus but to also understand its implications.

This comes as India has seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases attributed in part to the circulation of different variants, including the B.1.617 Coronavirus variant.

The Minister said there were currently no direct flights from India.

Government has consulted members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee to advise on the approach to manage travellers from countries that have variants of concern.

“Their advice will assist us to determine the next steps forward, of which government will announce in due course,” he said.

He called 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”.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has also confirmed that the B.1.617 Coronavirus variant has not been detected in South Africa.

“The institution has tremendous empathy for the dire situation that is unfolding in India and would like to reassure the South African public that we are keeping a close eye on developments,” said Prof Adrian Puren, the NICD’s Acting Executive Director.

Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD said testing of COVID-19 positive samples from travellers entering South Africa from India and their close contacts will be prioritised.

“This will enable us to detect the B.1.617 and any other variants in a timely manner.”

The institute said the mutation of viruses is a natural occurrence in the lifecycle of any virus, evident with the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 lineage in South Africa in October 2020.

“Although viral mutations are unavoidable, adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions have proven to greatly lessen transmission of the disease.

“South Africans are reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands with soap and water or to use hand sanitiser, and to keep a physical distance of at least 1.5 m from others. Social activities and small gatherings should take place outdoors, if possible, or in well-ventilated areas with open windows and doors, as proper ventilation plays an important role in reducing the spread.” Puren said.