The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, confirms that through collaborative efforts with private laboratories and the NGS-SA members, a new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa. Twenty-two positive cases of variant B.1.1.529 have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing collaborations between the NICD and private laboratories. In addition, other NGS-SA laboratories are confirming more cases as sequencing results come out.
“It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa,” comments Prof Adrian Puren, NICD Acting Executive Director. He adds that, “Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date.”
Detected cases and percent testing positive are both increasing quickly, particularly in Gauteng, North West and Limpopo. Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD says that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples. She stresses that regardless of the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions remains unchanged and the public are urged to be responsible. “This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practice healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and gather in well ventilated spaces.” She concludes with, “Individual compliance to preventative measures can have a great collective impact in limiting the spread of the new variant.”