We cannot rule out possibility of more Covid-19 variants in SA, says Health Minister Mkhize

The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize says the possibility that the newly-detected Covid-19 variants in the country have spread to other people cannot be ruled out. According to statistics, eleven cases of the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant and four of the B.1.617.2 (India) variant have been detected in the country. Over the weekend, the department confirmed the presence of the B.1.617.2 Covid-19 variant, which was discovered in India, and the B.1.1.7 Covid-19 variant, first detected in the UK.

“The risk of the spread is always there, we must work on the basis that any of these can spread and, therefore, whatever work we do is about trying to limit the extent in which this could spread. It won’t be surprising to us if these variants are spread to other contacts of the individuals, but we must be aware that it would have been completely difficult to completely isolate South Africa from any of these variants coming from different parts of the world because people move at all times,” said Mkhize.

Of the 11 cases of B.1.1.7, eight were detected in the Western Cape – with two having a history of travel from Bahrain, one was detected in KwaZulu-Natal and two were in Gauteng. Four other cases of the B.1.617.2 variant were detected in Gauteng (2) and KwaZulu-Natal (2) and all have a history of a recent arrival from India.

The minister explained that all cases have been isolated and managed according to national Covid-19 case management guidelines and that contact tracing has been performed in order to limit the spread of this variant. Mkhize, who was speaking on the SABC’s Morning Live, said the department would put forward proposals to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) on the feasibility of sealing the country’s borders.

“We have actually done an analysis and that will come before the NCCC to look at what other countries are showing much higher risks of spread that could actually affect South Africa. There is no problem in putting a restriction on India, but you need to understand that it can’t be India alone; there are many more other countries,” he said.

The variant (B.1.617.2) first discovered in India, has reached at least 17 countries, from Britain and Iran to Switzerland and the US, triggering global concern as experts worry it contains mutations that may give it an edge over the body’s immune defences.

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