The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says it has caught sight of the local SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19.

“This was done by culturing the virus in a high bio-containment facility, biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratory which together with biosafety level 4 (BSL3) laboratory is the most advanced integrated high and maximum bio-containment infrastructure on the African continent,” the NCID said in a statement on Saturday.

Staff wore highly specialised Personel Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves during the exercise.  The organisation says successful isolation of the virus was confirmed by observing changes in the cell lines used to grow the virus, called a cytopathic effect (CPE). Confirmation that this was indeed SARS-CoV-2 was done by specific diagnostic molecular assay.

The cultured virus was visualised under a high powered electron microscope.

The head of NICD’s Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases Prof Janusz Paweska and his team are behind the study.

NICD says it will allow scientists to better understand the basic virology and pathogenicity of this novel coronavirus and enhance South Africa’s capacity to develop diagnostics and anti-viral compounds. “There is also the possibility of using laboratory-grown virus for the local development of inactivated or live-attenuated COVID-19 vaccines and contribute to effective disease prevention and control,” the statement says.

Below is the full statement on the discovery:

Below is a graph on the latest COVID-19 statistics in South Africa: