covid-19 india variant

Is India COVID-19 variant in SA? – Here’s what we know

5 May 2021 - 11:17

Worries have grown after a number of travellers from India tested positive for COVID-19 in KZN and Gqeberha.

Written by Andile Sicetsha

Talks of a COVID-19 variant from India possibly spreading in South Africa have caused a wave of panic on social media.

What do we know about this variant?

The situation in India is dire, to say the least. Already, the COVID-19 variant spreading in the Asian country has claimed more than 226 000 lives.

In a record turnout, India recorded a daily death toll of 3 780 on Tuesday, the highest reported casualties total since the start of the pandemic.

The strain termed B.1.617, may have earned its nickname “double mutant” for its extremely high levels of transmissibility.

According to The Scientist, the mutation is a combination of COVID-19 variants found in the US, Brazil and South Africa. Currently, there is no peer-reviewed study that shows high vaccine efficacy against the virus and to date, the World Health Organisation has tagged the B.1.617 strain as a “variant of interest” and not one of concern due to the lack of available data.

Is the India COVID-19 variant spreading in South Africa?

South Africa is currently gripped in uncertainty over the existence of the COVID-19 variant spreading in India within its borders. This comes after the health ministry confirmed reports of a number of travellers from India who, after testing, were found to be positive.

Three air travellers who arrived at the King Shaka International Airport, in KwaZulu-Natal, from India, on two separate Qatar Airways flights have been in quarantine after they tested positive for COVID-19.

In the statement, the health department confirmed that one of the passengers is in critical condition, while the other two asymptomatic travellers are in self-quarantine.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has, since the cases were detected between 21 and 25 April 2021, been overseeing “sample collection, contact tracing and intensified surveillance.”

Another worrying case was reported in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape, on 2 May 2021, where a vessel coming from India berthed at Maydon Wharf, a day after a crew member had died from what’s suspected to be COVID-19 complications.

Of the 21 crew members, 14 tested positive for COVID-19 and at this time, no signs of the India variant have been detected in samples collected.

The NICD doubled down on the latter, categorically stating that as far as it is known, the B.1.617 has not yet been detected in South Africa.

“Testing of COVID-19 positive samples from travellers entering South Africa from India and their close contacts will be prioritised,” Head of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD, Dr Michelle Groome, said.

With no data available on the variant, the best weapon of defence, the NICD pleaded, is practising strict mask and social distancing protocols.

“South Africans are reminded to wear their masks, wash their hands with soap and water or to use hand sanitiser, and to keep a physical distance of at least 1.5 m from others. Social activities and small gatherings should take place outdoors, if possible, or in well-ventilated areas with open windows and doors, as proper ventilation plays an important role in reducing the spread,” the NICD noted.

At the time this article was published, travellers from India were still allowed to enter South Africa.