Don't panic, says NICD after confirmed cases of variant first detected in India

On Saturday, the institute confirmed that the COVID-19 variant first detected in India, B.1.617.2 arrived in the country, with four confirmed cases.

FILE: Another variant of concern, B.1.1.7 first detected in the UK has also arrived here on home soil with government confirming there are now 11 confirmed cases in SA. Picture: 123rf.com

JOHANNESBURG - The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) on Monday said it would be a fine balancing act to control the new COVID-19 variant first detected in India while protecting the economy.

On Saturday, the institute confirmed that the COVID-19 variant first detected in India B.1.617.2 is in the country, with four confirmed cases.

Another variant of concern, B.1.1.7 first detected in the UK has also arrived here on home soil with government confirming there are now 11 confirmed cases in SA.

The institute's acting executive director Adrian Puren said people should not panic.

“Rather than panic, I think we should focus on making sure that our resurgence plans are in place and we are engaging with communities about nonpharmaceutical interventions and hospitals are ready in terms of oxygen, beds, ICUs.”

The NICD believes the current COVID-19 vaccines remain effective when it comes to the new variant first picked up in the UK, but more data is needed to analyse their response to the variant identified in India.

Government has called for calm with the diagnosis of these two new variants of concerns in this country.

Puren added: “It’s the numbers in terms of the health systems being overburdened. If we look at the new variants across the world, they tend to have high transmissibility.”

LISTEN: Four new variants detected in South Africa

Meanwhile, government on Sunday said it would make an announcement soon regarding travel regulations after variants that first emerged in India and the UK have now been detected locally.

Calls are mounting for government to considering tightening entry restrictions for travellers coming from India.

Most countries have closed their borders to countries where mutations of COVID-19 resulted in new variants in order to prevent importing these variants, but South Africa has kept its borders open to India.

The Department of Health said COVID-19 travel restrictions needed to be balanced with the need to grow the economy.

South Africa has not yet joined the growing number of countries that have banned flights from India to limit the spread of its variant, it’s understood an announcement will be made once the Cabinet has consulted on the matter.

Wits University vaccinology expert professor Shabir Madhi said while the country should be cautious, there was not enough evidence yet that indicated that the variant caused a more severe form of the virus.

Mahdi said the virus mutations were inevitable: “What we do know, is the longer you leave people unvaccinated, the more the virus is circulating and the greater the virus will mutate. So, our focus is to ensure that we try to reduce the virus mutating. We also need to appreciate that COVID-19 is not going to go away. This virus is going to be with us for the rest of our lifetime.”

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