Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has said South Africa is on high alert as new variants of Covid-19 could be imported into the country, which could lead to an increase in cases.
In a statement released Tuesday evening (May 4), Mkhize said a number of passengers were carrying different variants of Covid-19 at South African ports of entry over the past week, and that the Department of Health is in talks with scientific advisers on how to limit the impact of these variants.
“This increase in case detection at points of entry is of deep concern to us as a government and we are addressing this urgently. We consulted with the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) as well as the genomics team to guide us on managing travelers at points of entry during these difficult times.
Mkhize said the government will determine next steps, and announcements will be made on the status of the variants and what measures will be implemented to mitigate the importation of Covid-19 in general.
He said the deadly variant B.1.617, which circulates widely in India and South Asia, has not been detected in South Africa. Genomics teams are working on some samples, but it will take longer before a definitive answer is provided, he said.
“We would like to remind South Africans that the B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) variant remains the most dominant in South Africa and indeed we have had confirmation that one of the samples taken from a traveler from India is 501Y.V2.
“We remain cognizant of the World Health Organization advice that all variants are handled the same – prevention by adhering to NPIs, early detection, contact tracing and tracing, and quarantine or isolation.
“All of these elements are part of the regulations governing the management of Covid-19 and it is by adhering to these regulations that we have detected and contained cases of Covid-19 at points of entry.”
Mkhize said concerns about variants “Difficult area” during the Covid-19 pandemic, which can often lead to exclusion, mistrust and sometimes even racist rhetoric.
“We share the concerns of our people but wish to reassure South Africans that we are a very capable nation that knows how to cope with the burden of a variant of worry. Our teams remain on alert to monitor, detect and contain the spread of Covid-19 in general, with increased awareness among travelers from countries where VOCs dominate. ”
Read: Regulator must tackle ‘unwanted’ medical aid co-payments in South Africa