Government on ‘high alert’ for new Covid-19 variant from India: Mkhize

The government is on “high alert” for the Covid-19 variant circulating in India‚ health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Monday.

The government had also asked the ministerial advisory committee for its advice on how to handle travel from countries where “variants of concern” were prevalent.

In a statement‚ the minister said that there were no cases of the B.1.617 variant in SA‚ but that genomics teams had told the department they had “intensified 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 SA”.

This comes after the Netcare group of hospitals confirmed that a patient who had “recently” travelled to India had tested positive for the coronavirus and was being treated in a KwaZulu-Natal hospital. The variant the patient had tested positive for was not yet established.

More than 300‚000 new Covid-19 cases a day are being reported in India‚ which is the global pandemic epicentre. The new cases and associated fatalities are largely driven by the B.1.617 variant.

“We have noted the concerns raised both directly with us and on social media regarding possible importation of the B.1.617 variant circulating in India. This is appreciated with the context of knowing that there are several variants of concern (VOC’s) circulating around the world.

“We wish to reassure citizens that there are no direct flights from India and that all our ports of entry employ stringent containment procedures to minimise the importation of Covid-19.

“Meanwhile‚ we have also consulted the ministerial advisory committee to advise us on the approach to management of travellers from countries that have epidemics driven by variants of concern. Their advice will assist us to determine the next steps‚ which will be announced 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‚” said Mkhize.

Mkhize said on Monday that there were now 1‚584‚961 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across SA — an increase of 897 from figures released on Sunday night. The new infections come from 16‚752 tests‚ at a positivity rate of 5.45%.

Mkhize also reported 35 new Covid-19 related deaths‚ taking the total number of fatalities to 54‚452.

Source: ARENA Holdings.