The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, have sequenced COVID-19 specimens from individuals with a recent travel history to India. The institute can confirm that five of the specimens tested positive for B.1.617.2 (three cases from Gauteng and two from KwaZulu-Natal). The B.1.617.2 variant is currently highlighted as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization and is one of multiple variants circulating in India. All cases have been isolated and managed according to COVID-19 case management guidelines and contact tracing has been performed in order to limit the spread of this variant.
Another variant that is currently dominating COVID-19 infections in Europe and North America, B.1.1.7 has also been detected in South Africa. Eleven cases of B.1.1.7 have been confirmed, with eight cases in the Western Cape, two cases in Gauteng and one case in KwaZulu-Natal. “It is not surprising that new variants have been detected in South Africa”, says Prof Adrian Puren, the NICD’s Acting Executive Director. “We would like to assure the public that the institute is focusing their resources and research efforts towards understanding the variants and what the potential implications are for South Africa.” Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD adds that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples from travellers entering the country, from India specifically and their close contacts.
Minimising the spread of the disease and possibly curtailing a resurgence through compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions cannot be emphasised enough. “We understand that many are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue, and becoming lax in exercising preventative measures. But for the sake of yourselves and your loved ones, wash or sanitise your hands, wear your masks and maintain physical distance of 1.5 m from others. Remember to hold gatherings outdoors, or in well ventilated areas and roll up your sleeve once the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to you,” Puren concludes.