Senior Researcher at the  Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Ridhwaan Suliman says there has been a sharp increase in positive coronavirus cases in South Africa in the last two weeks and people must continue to adhere to protocols to prevent a major resurgence of the virus.

Dr Suliman says the test positivity rate in the last week was 6.7%  which is well above the WHO’s recommended levels. He also says the 60 % increase in the number of new coronavirus infections in Gauteng over the last week is a cause for concern.

“Of particular concern and currently thriving the increase in the national numbers is the increase in the populist province of Gauteng. Currently, Gauteng is averaging just over 500 new cases per day over the last week. Currently, the test positivity we have on average is at 6.7 percent across the country and that increases are quite sharp about 5 percent a week ago. It is certainly concerning with these increase trends we have seen in infection rates. Once the positivity rate starts increasing it confirms that we are not testing widely enough,” says Dr Suliman.

Dr Suliman says the situation in the Free State and the Northern Cape must also be closely monitored.

South Africans are urged to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and regular hand washing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

People are also urged to avoid areas with poor ventilation and crowded spaces. The death toll from COVID 19 is approaching 55 thousand people in South Africa. However, the real death toll could be far higher – given that over 150 000 excess deaths are believed to have taken place in South Africa so far during the pandemic.

“At the moment we averaging 45 new deaths per day across the country and that is a slight increase of 12 percent week on week. The increase is largely driven by an increase in Gauteng and Northern Cape and the Free State. Also when we look at deaths in hospitals is showing a significant increase. But unfortunately, if the infection rate does increase we may see many people, unfortunately, succumbing to the virus.,” adds Dr Suliman.

Question of travel restrictions following detection of variant first diagnosed in India

The Acting Executive Director for the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Professor Adrian Puren, says COVID-19 travel restrictions need to be balanced with the need to grow the economy.

Prof Puren says there should be a fine balance to manage the situation especially as coronavirus variants are in circulation worldwide.

The Department of Health earlier said it had detected the presence of coronavirus variants dominant in India and the UK in South Africa.

The Department says, “The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) confirmed today that 2 variants of concern, other than the B.1.351 already dominating in South Africa, have been detected. These are B.1.1.7 (first detected in the UK) – 11 cases and B.1.617.2 (first detected in India) – 4 cases.”

“In addition, the B.1.351 (first detected here in South Africa) has been sequenced from a patient travelling from Bangladesh.”

The statement says, “The four cases of B.1.617.2 have been detected in Gauteng (2) and KwaZulu-Natal (2) and all have a history of a recent arrival from India. All cases have been isolated and managed according to national
COVID-19 case management guidelines and contact tracing has been performed in order to limit the
spread of this variant.”

Regarding the variant first identified in the UK, the Department says, “Of the eleven cases of B.1.1.7, eight were detected in the Western Cape (with two having a history of travel from Bahrain), one was detected in KwaZulu-Natal and two were detected in Gauteng.”

Prof Puren says it’s a tough situation.

“As you note the variants are in circulation even though there are specific restrictions from various countries. The variants are in circulation, it’s really how we manage that particular scenario. For example, in the UK and other countries, it’s really either to have the results of PCR or either test, quarantine or isolate or test during that particular period and release those particular individuals.”

Prof Puren also says the country will experience new coronavirus variants in various geographic areas.

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