South Africa

Traveller from India tests positive for Covid-19

Traveller from India tests positive for Covid-19

A person who recently travelled from India to SA is being treated for Covid-19 in a KwaZulu-Natal hospital, but it is not yet known which variant of the virus they contracted.

Dr Caroline Maslo, senior clinical adviser and head of infection control of Netcare’s hospital division, confirmed the information on Monday evening, and said the patient was in isolation.

“Though Covid-19 screening is performed at South African border posts, this unfortunately cannot fully rule out new cases and potentially new variants entering our country, either directly from their country of origin or via connecting routes,” she said.

She said Covid-19 case numbers were “extremely low” in Netcare's hospitals. 

“We remain vigilant in maintaining strict safety precautions in our facilities and apply an abundance of caution in treating all patients.

“Generally, SA’s Covid-19 test positivity rate is still relatively low at 5%, and though we remain cautiously optimistic for now, it remains vital that every person does their part and practises prevention measures including social distancing, hand washing, sanitising, wearing a face mask covering both the mouth and nose, and avoiding poorly ventilated areas.”

Maslo, however, said the national department of health’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) should be the ones to tell South Africans if any new variants had been detected in the country — “and how these may differ from the strains that have been in circulation here to date”.

Attempts to contact NICD spokesperson Sinenhlanhla Jimoh on Monday evening were unsuccessful, but earlier on Wednesday the institute had published a statement on the coronavirus variant (B.1.617) now wreaking havoc in India.

The NICD said it was monitoring the Covid-19 trends in SA and abroad, and the Indian variant had not been detected in the country. Any suspected cases would be investigated, the NICD said.

NICD's acting executive director Prof Adrian Puren said the institute “has tremendous empathy for the dire situation that is unfolding in India and would like to reassure the South African public that we are keeping a close eye on developments”.

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the division of public health surveillance and response at the NICD, said: “Testing of Covid-19-positive samples from travellers entering SA from India and their close contacts will be prioritised. This will enable us to detect the B.1.617 and any other variants in a timely manner.”

According to the statement, the mutation of viruses is a natural occurrence in the life cycle of any virus. Though viral mutations are unavoidable, adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions have proven to greatly lessen transmission of the disease.

“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 1.5m 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,” Puren said.

Speaking in parliament last week, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the department was aware of concerns raised about people coming from India.

“We have been monitoring that situation and we do not have an indication that there is a direct risk to SA but we will continue to monitor it. We just need to be very vigilant.

“There have also been reports about different types of variants coming from various parts of the continent, in particular from Tanzania, and we have not got that this is the case in this country. Though it has been spotted in other parts of the continent we will get to know more because our scientists are working together,” he said.