Covid-19: Keep calm and carry on sanitising, says Mkhize, following discovery of new variant

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Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Jeffrey Abrahams
  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has announced the discovery of a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • Its severity is not yet clear but the new variant shows early signs of spreading fast in the country.
  • Scientists say that while it is a cause of concern "it is something we can deal with".

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the discovery of a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on Friday which appears to be spreading fast across South Africa.

But he said while they were concerned, people should keep calm and carry on wearing masks, cleaning hands with soap and sanitiser, and maintaining social distancing. 

"It is important to reiterate that while this mutation is a cause for concern, there is no reason to panic," Mkhize added.

During a virtual briefing, Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) co-chairperson Professor Salim Adbool Karim said the severity of the virus in the second wave was still not clear and it was too early to tell.

READ | Non-compliance with Covid-19 regulations could see Western Cape beaches closed - Bheki Cele

The discovery comes as the country recently breached the 10 000 mark for new daily cases on Wednesday.

"Our current case management is guided by clinical manifestations of the pandemic and this has still been effective irrespective of the mutation that has been identified," said Mkhize.

"There is no evidence to suggest a need to change in clinical treatment and patient management of Covid-19 in the second wave to date.

"Scientists do not want to speculate on the discovery as research is still ongoing."

Here is what we do not yet know:

- Where it came from. The variant emerged in Nelson Mandela Bay and then spread to other areas, however, scientists do not know its origin.

- How severe it is.

- Its implications on individuals who were previously infected and recovered. Researchers still need to ascertain if they would be re-infected by the variant.

- Whether the current vaccines being developed will be effective on the new variant. Mkhize said they would continue with the vaccine programme as there was no evidence to do otherwise and scientific research would clarify that.

Scientists, however, do know the following:

- It is unusual for a new variant to contain several mutations.

- Coronavirus variants have also been identified in the UK and Australia, but are not as widespread as the new SA variant.

- There are early signs that the new variant is spreading fast, sometimes faster than the first wave virus.

- It has probably spread across most of the country by now.

Karim said it was concerning the virus seemed to be spreading rapidly but "it is something we can deal with".

Mkhize urged people not to become lax during the second wave of the pandemic.

"We have noticed some degree of complacency with wearing of masks, and the use of sanitisers. The second wave is likely to increase after the festive season and there is a high number of youth aged 14 to 19 testing positive for the virus.

"All of this together says we should be concerned. If anything, we should emphasise on what we know works, sanitisers, masks, distancing washing hands, etc, that is what will work on the variant," he said.

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