The Department of Health has confirmed the detection of two COVID-19 variants of concern in South Africa; 11 cases of B.1.1.7 first detected in the UK and 4 cases of B.1.617.2 first detected in India. In a statement, the Department said the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) confirmed the news on Saturday.

India is fast becoming the global epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic with 20 million cases and counting. On Saturday, 8 May, India’s health ministry reported 4,187 fatalities in 24 hours and many of the infections have been largely driven by the B.1.617 variant of the virus, which is dominant in the country.

IN WHICH PROVINCES WERE THE COVID-19 VARIANTS DETECTED?

Department of Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed that of the four cases of the B.1.617.2 variant two were detected in Gauteng and two were detected in KwaZulu-Natal. They all have a history of recent arrival from India.

“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.

“Of the eleven cases of B.1.1.7 variant eight were detected in the Western Cape with two having a history of travel from Bahrain. The other two were detected in Gauteng and one in KwaZulu-Natal. The B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in community samples and this therefore suggests that community transmissions of the B.1.1.7 has already set in,” Mkhize said.

CONCERN OVER REPORTS ON VARIANTS

Mkhize said that there is no need for panic, as the fundamentals of the public health response which includes testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine have not changed.

“We all have a responsibility to adhere to prevention measures in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa. We are all deeply concerned about the threat of the variants of concern and these reports demonstrate that the issue is complicated. Travel restrictions will need to be balanced against scientific realities in order to protect the economy.”

Announcements pertaining to travel regulations will be made after all appropriate consultations have been undertaken by Cabinet, the Department revealed.

This week, Transnet National Port Authority confirmed that 14 crew members of a cargo bulk carrier that sailed to Durban from India have tested positive for COVID-19 and that the chief engineer of the Eaubonne vessel died from a heart attack on Sunday, 2 May, the day it arrived at the Port of Durban.

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Presh JM Reporter

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