Covid-19 update: ‘High alert’ over variants as samples taken from positive travellers

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. PHOTO: Jacques Nelles

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has again reassured citizens that the B.1.617 coronavirus (Covid-19) variant has not been detected yet in South Africa.

The Citizen reports, in a statement, Mkhize said that the concerns over new variants had driven “exclusion, mistrust and sometimes even racist rhetoric”.

This comes as several peoples’ samples were taken for testing – including the three people, who flew from India amid the resurgence of infections, which tested positive for Covid-19.

“We share our people’s concerns but wish to reassure South Africans that we are a very capable nation that knows how to deal with the burden of a variant of concern (VOCs). Our teams remain on high alert to survey, detect and contain the spread of Covid-19 in general, with heightened awareness of travellers from countries where VOCs are dominating.

“We confirm that the B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India, has not been detected, however the genomics teams are working on some samples and we will need to allow the time it takes to sequence before we get an answer,” Mkhize said.

The minister said the 501Y.V2 variant, which was discovered in South Africa last year, remained the most dominant in the country.

“And indeed we have had confirmation that one of the samples taken from a traveller from India is the 501Y.V2,” he said.

Mkhize addressed the three travellers who arrive from India via Doha on two separate occasions.

He said one of them arrived at the King Shaka International Airport in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on April 21 and the two others on April 25.

“The first passenger subsequently took ill and remains in isolation at a health care facility, whilst the other two passengers are currently asymptomatic and in isolation at paid lodgings. Port Health has provided details of passengers who were close contacts and NICD have overseen the cases for sample collection, contact tracing and intensified surveillance,” he said.

The minister spoke of the 14 crew members of a vessel docked in Gqebherha, Eastern Cape, who were currently in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 last week.

“On 1 May 2021, a death on board an approaching vessel was reported to Port Health by SAPS, the assistant harbour master and the vessel agent. The vessel had departed India on the 18 April 2021 and berthed at Maydon Wharf on 2 May 2021 with the deceased.

“The body was subsequently transported to a state mortuary for a post-mortem. Due to sampling difficulties, authorities still await the PCR test result. However, contact tracing proceeded for 21 crew members. Of those, 14 have been detected with Covid-19 and seven have tested negative.

“The vessel has been secured and is under strict security in its berth until authorities decide to move it to the outer anchorage under strict security until the containment period is successfully completed,” he added.

Meanwhile, the cumulative number of detected Covid-19 cases is 1 586 148 with 1 187 new cases identified.

59 more Covid-19 related deaths were reported, with 7 from Eastern Cape, 3 from Free State, 21 from Gauteng, 4 from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), 20 from Limpopo, 0 from Mpumalanga, 0 from North West, 1 from Northern Cape and 3 from Western Cape.

This brings the total number of Covid-19 related deaths to 54 511.

Recoveries now stand at 1 509 656 representing a recovery rate of 95%.

A total of 10 739 813 tests have been completed with 24 040 new tests conducted since the last report, while the total number of vaccines that have been administered stands at 339,655.

The Citizen / Molefe Seeletsa