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As the third wave looms, SA is riddled with Covid-19 variants

Last week we reported that three travellers from India tested positive for Covid-19. Fortunately, they did not carry the B.1.617 variant that is spreading wildly in India, but over the weekend and to our dismay, it was reported that four cases of the B.1. 617 variant had been detected in South Africa. Two in Kwa-Zulu Natal and two in Gauteng. The individuals had recently travelled to India, Business Day reported.  

All cases have been isolated and managed according to Covid-19 case management guidelines and contact tracing has been performed in order to limit the spread of the variant, reports the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). 

At the moment there are three types of variants in South Africa, namely the  B.1.617 detected in India, B.1.1.7 detected in the UK and the B.1.351 originating from South Africa. 

Initially the B.1.617 was a variant of interest and on Monday, the WHO classified it as a variant of concern.

  • A variant of interest is more suspected to be contagious than the initial strain. 
  • A variant of concern shows evidence that there is an increase in transmissibility. 

As it stands there are four variants of concern globally, namely the B.1.1.7 detected in the UK, P1 from Brazil, B.1.351 from South Africa and now the B.1.617.2 of India. 

Read more about the different Covid-19 strains here

The implications for our healthcare system are dire considering our non exponential vaccine rollout. Dr Asmal Dasoo, convenor of the Progressive Health Forum said that the healthcare system needs to prepare for the influx of cases expected during the third wave. 

The Free State announced last week that the province had entered a third wave. The spokesperson of the Free State Department of Health, Mondli Mvambi notes the importance of personal responsibility to avoid the spread of Covid-19, making mention of the fact that no health system is able to withstand the high numbers of demand for high flow oxygen, high care and intensive care units.

The government needs to act quickly and move the country to stricter lockdown levels to limit large gatherings, experts say. Professor Alex van der Heever told News24 that in the absence of vaccines the only choice we have is to introduce restrictions targeted at gatherings. 

Dasoo said that the most important thing is to get people vaccinated. Closing of the border will not help nor will the sanitary measures stop the spread of the variants. The only way we can protect ourselves is if we get immunity from the variants, said Dasoo. 

He added that the Ministerial Advisory Committee and the health department need to admit their shortfalls concerning their Covid-19 response. He says the president needs to be the one who addresses this matter.  Focusing too much on the infighting in the ANC is negatively affecting the response to the pandemic, he said.