The Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize has indicated that there are no yet plans afoot to place the country under stricter restrictions despite the emergence of new Covid-19 variants. Mkhize was speaking on SABC news on Tuesday.
This announcement comes amid growing concerns regarding cases of the seemingly more potent variants which were first detected in the UK and India. Mkhize announced that despite the worrisome figures, there had been no indication from the President to tighten lockdown regulations, adding that Ramaphosa would state his intentions at the right time should it become necessary. Zweli Mkhize added, “All we have to do is make sure there are adequate considerations put into issues that are needed to contain the spread of the virus so we are able to answer or respond to all the things we are seeing.”
The B.1.1.7 variant which was first discovered in the UK has surfaced in South Africa with one case being detected in KwaZulu Natal, two in Gauteng, and the rest in the Western Cape to make a total of 11 cases. On the other hand, the Indian variant, so to speak, that is, the B. 1.617.2, there are four cases that were detected over the weekend and these are shared equally between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. These figures were released by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, which is a division of the National Health Laboratory Service. Its acting executive director, Professor Adrian Puren said, “We would like to assure the public that the institute is focusing resources and research efforts towards understanding the variants and what the implications are for South Africa.”
The B.1.617.2 was on Monday classified by the World Health Organisation as a variant of global concern due to the fact that it was easily transmissible. This was announced by the lead technical expert on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, who said, “We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level. There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.”
South Africa is currently on lockdown level one, which has very limited restrictions on movement of people, which is the cause for concern for many people, particularly at this time when India is experiencing such a record infection rate. However, there are also concerns around enforcing a further lockdown as it will have a very adverse effect on the economy, which is already suffering under the strain of a number of factors that include corruption.