The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, continues to monitor COVID-19 trends both nationally and abroad. India has recently made headlines, following a resurgence of COVID-19 cases attributed in part to circulation of different variants, including the B.1.617 coronavirus variant. “The institution has tremendous empathy for the dire situation that is unfolding in India and would like to reassure the South African public that we are keeping a close eye on developments,” says Prof Adrian Puren, the NICD’s Acting Executive Director.

To date the B.1.617 variant has not been detected in South Africa and any suspected cases will be investigated. “Testing of COVID-19 positive samples from travellers entering South Africa from India and their close contacts will be prioritised,” reassures Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD. “This will enable us to detect the B.1.617 and any other variants in a timely manner.”

The mutation of viruses is a natural occurrence in the lifecycle of any virus, evident with the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 lineage in South Africa in October 2020. Although viral mutations are unavoidable, adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions have proven to greatly lessen transmission of the disease. “South Africans are reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands with soap and water or to use hand sanitiser, and to keep a physical distance of at least 1.5 m from others. Social activities and small gatherings should take place outdoors, if possible, or in well-ventilated areas with open windows and doors, as proper ventilation plays an important role in reducing the spread,” Puren concludes.

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