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SOUTH AFRICA: Covid-19 variants of concern detected

SOUTH Africa’s health department on Saturday evening confirmed that two variants of concern have been detected.

According to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize the Network for Genomic Surveillance in SA (NGS-SA) confirmed that two variants of concern, other than the B.1.351 already dominating in SA, have been detected.

Of the B.1.1.7 variant which was first detected in the UK, there were 11 cases, while the B.1.617.2 variant, which was first detected in India, four cases have been detected.

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), one was detected in KwaZulu-Natal and two were detected 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.

“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,” he said.

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 recent arrival from India.

He said in addition the B.1.351 variant, which was first detected in SA, has been sequenced from a patient travelling from Bangladesh.

“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.”

Mkhize said there were a number of other samples from cases with a history of recent travel into SA that is currently being sequenced. He said the results are expected over the next few days.

“It is important to emphasise that variants can develop at any time in any country so they do not have to be imported.

“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.”

He said they were “deeply concerned” about the threat of variants of concern and these reports demonstrate that the issue is complicated.

“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, a total of 37 Covid-19 deaths were reported in the country, bringing the total to 54,724.

A total of 1,594,817 Covid-19 cases have been documented in SA, with Gauteng being the front-runner with 427, 782 cases and KwaZulu-Natal coming in second with 337,254 cases. The Western Cape follows with 288,052 cases.

1,514,088 people have recovered, which is a 95% recovery rate.

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