Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize addressed the public’s concerns regarding the possible presence of the B.1.617 variant of coronavirus, first detected in India, in the country. Mkhize said the variant has not been detected in South Africa yet and added that there are no direct flights into the country from India.
However, earlier on Monday, 3 May, it was revealed that a traveller entered the country from India and tested positive for COVID-19. The individual received treatment at a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal and it is not clear which variant of coronavirus they picked up on their travels.
The Health Minister addressed the variant concerns in his daily update on coronavirus statistics on Monday night. “We wish to reassure citizens that there are no direct flights from India and that all our ports of entry employ stringent containment procedures to minimise the importation of COVID-19,” said Mkhize.
He added that the department is on high alert and ready to test arrivals who require further assessment.
Mkhize repeated what the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said earlier on Monday – the B.1.617 variant has not been detected in South Africa, yet. However, both Mkhize and the NICD, said surveillance is being intensified in order to quickly detect any new variants that emerge in the country.
“Meanwhile, we have also consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise us on the approach to management of travellers from countries that have epidemics driven by variants of concern,” said Mkhize.
The Committee’s advice will be used to draft measures, which the government will announce in due course.
As of today, the total number of confirmed #COVID19 cases is 1 584 961 the total number of deaths is 54 452 the total number of recoveries is 1 508 558 and the total number of vaccines administered is 329 098. pic.twitter.com/KT9IL1rEUD
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) May 3, 2021
The public’s concern about the B.1.617 variant did not materialise out of thin air. On Monday, Netcare’s Dr Caroline Maslo – the senior clinical advisor and head of infection at the hospital group – confirmed that a patient who recently travelled from India was treated for COVID-19 at a facility in KwaZulu-Natal.
However, it is not clear whether the traveller picked up a variant of concern that was first detected elsewhere. Both, the Department of Health and the NICD maintain that the B.1.617 variant has not been detected in South Africa yet.
As of Monday, 3 May, South Africa’s total cumulative recoveries stand at 1 508 558, which represents a recovery rate of 95%. Unfortunately, 35 more COVID-19-related deaths were recorded in the Eastern Cape (2), Free State (6), Gauteng (7), KwaZulu-Natal (16), Mpumalanga (1) and the Western Cape (1).
In total, 54 452 people have died of the virus since the onset of the pandemic.
“The number of Health Care Workers vaccinated under the Sisonke Protocol to date is 329 098,” said Mkhize.