Johannesburg: A new COVID-19 variant has been detected in South Africa which has infected 22 people and experts are working overtime to understand what its potential implications could be, scientists said here on Thursday.
Twenty-two positive cases of the new variant – called B.1.1.529 – have been recorded in South Africa following genomic sequencing collaborations between the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, and private laboratories.
“It is not surprising that a new variant has been detected in South Africa,” said Prof Adrian Puren, NICD Acting Executive Director.
“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date, Puren added.
Detected cases and percent testing positive are both increasing quickly, particularly in most populated province of Gauteng, North West and Limpopo.
Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the NICD, said that provincial health authorities remain on high alert and are prioritising the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples.
She stressed that regardless of the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, the importance of non-pharmaceutical interventions remains unchanged and the public are urged to be responsible.
This means that individuals should get vaccinated, wear masks, practice healthy hand hygiene, maintain social distancing, and gather in well ventilated spaces, she added.