India's 'variant of concern' has not yet been detected in SA - Western Cape health head

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Dr Keith Cloete is head of health in the Western Cape province.
Dr Keith Cloete is head of health in the Western Cape province.
Brenton Geach, Gallo Images
  • The coronavirus variant causing alarm in India has not yet been detected in SA, according to the Western Cape health department.  
  • Talks are underway over a possible quarantine for international travellers.
  • Vaccine registration for people aged 60 and older is worryingly low.

There is no confirmed case of the Covid-19 variant, which has been crippling the health system in India, in South Africa as yet.

However, South Africa is considering quarantine for international travellers amid heightened vigilance for anything that could worsen the anticipated third wave of the virus.   

"Just to confirm there has not been a case detected in South Africa yet," said Keith Cloete, the head of the Western Cape's health department.

He was speaking on Thursday during the weekly update of the Covid-19 situation in the province. 

There was a scare earlier in the week after a vessel from India docked in Durban. Fourteen of the ship's crew had confirmed cases of Covid-19, and were subsequently quarantined. 

In Gqeberha, 14 crew members on a cargo vessel from Mombasa, Kenya, tested positive for the virus. In that case, the ship allegedly declared incorrectly that there were no cases on board. 

The new "variant of concern" was not detected in cases on either of the ships.

READ | 'We are sitting on a timebomb' - Covid-19 MAC members raise concerns about variant found in India

Cloete said the variation most likely to dominate South Africa's third wave is still likely to be what was called the "South African variant" - the B.1.351 - but the province is taking no chances, with its test positivity rate hovering around the 5% mark. 

Cloete said: 

Our concern remains that travelling - international air travel and travel to high-risk areas and from high-risk areas, or high prevalent areas - is a risk. So any entry via air travel would be a risk to the country.

Cloete said this did not specifically apply to India, which does not have direct flights to and from South Africa. 

"There have been other parts of the world, where there are also [risks]. And especially when there are variants of concern."

In response, the province's health department wants to send 10 more health workers to assist Port Health authorities with screening at the Cape Town International Airport. 

The practice of visitors going into quarantine, which other countries have in place, is also under discussion.

"We've made recommendations to the national department, and I know there's been considerations, with an advisory from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), to start looking at quarantine from high-risk areas, or people from high-risk areas, together with a testing regime to potentially safeguard," he said.

These discussions include who will pay for quarantine, and who will pay for extra testing at points of entry to the country - if authorities think it is required.

Premier Alan Winde said an advisory was sent out by the MAC and, after giving its input, the province was waiting further instructions. 

"Already at our own ports of entry, we have upped our vigilance," he said.

READ | Covid-19: There is 'potential for a surge' in Africa, warns WHO

The province is, in the meantime, focusing on ways of mitigating the inevitable third wave, including getting the long-awaited public vaccination programme off the ground. 

One of the tools is a new dashboard for the public to follow the updates on the number of cases and in which areas there are spikes and clusters.

It has also separated the data into age groups and genders, and how many reinfections there have been.

With only 11 days until people 60 and over go for their vaccinations in the Western Cape, only a worrying 28% of those eligible have registered for the vaccine. 

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said authorities have been on a blitz to get people to register, and are appealing to "tech savvy" people to help the elderly. 

"Try and assist your gogo or your oupa, in terms of their registration," she said.

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