South Africa’s defences against new and potentially dangerous new variants appear to have been breached this week, after a traveller from India tested positive for COVID-19. The news is particularly significant, given that the sub-continental nation is experiencing a devastating wave of the virus – possibly fuelled by a variant with a ‘double mutation’.
There is still no evidence to suggest that the variant first detected in India can evade the impact of vaccines – but that doesn’t bring a great deal of assurance to South Africans, with only 0.5% of the country immunised against COVID-19 so far. That’s why non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, remains vital in South Africa.
International travellers are required to jump through many, many hoops before they touch down in South Africa. A series of negative tests have to be produced before someone can enter our borders. So, how did this Indian traveller manage to contract the virus and still get all the way to their final destination?
Senior clinical adviser and head of infection control of Netcare’s hospital division, Dr. Caroline Maslo, explained in a statement that border checks are not 100% effective, as some screenings fail to detect the early onset of COVID-19.
“Although COVID-19 screening is performed at South African border posts, this, unfortunately, can’t fully rule out new cases and new variants entering our country, either directly from their country of origin or via connecting routes.” | Dr. Caroline Masolo
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, meanwhile, reiterated that this incident is not commonplace. The traveller from India was only able to enter South Africa thanks to a connecting flight, and they are now being treated in isolation at a KZN hospital.
“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. We’re currently on high alert to screen passengers and test those who require further assessment.”
“We have not detected the B.1.617 variant as yet in South Africa, however, we have consulted members of the genomics team who have informed us that they have intensified their surveillance not only to ensure that variant can be detected quickly but also to understand what the implications are if the strain becomes the dominant one in South Africa.”