There are no known cases in SA of the B.1.617 Covid-19 variant, but several people — including three who flew in from India — are having their positive samples tested.

This is according to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Tuesday, who said that the concerns over new variants have driven “exclusion, mistrust and sometimes even racist rhetoric”.

He said the government shared people’s concerns over the importation of the B.1.617 variant now circulating in India, which has been a significant factor in the Asian country becoming the global virus epicentre, with more than 300,000 new cases being reported daily.

“We share our people’s concerns but wish to reassure South Africans that we are a very capable nation that knows how to deal with the burden of a variant of concern (VOC). Our teams remain on high alert to survey, detect and contain the spread of Covid-19 in general, with heightened awareness of travellers from countries where VOCs are dominating.

“We confirm that the B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India, has not been detected, however the genomics teams are working on some samples and we will need to allow the time it takes to sequence before we get an answer,” he said.

He said the B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) variant identified in SA late last year, which was responsible for the deadly second wave, was still the most dominant in the country.

“Indeed we have had confirmation that one of the samples taken from a traveller from India is the 501Y.V2,” he said.

According to Mkhize there were three air travellers from India, via Doha, who flew into SA and had tested positive for Covid-19. One of them arrived in SA on April 21 and the others on April 25, all through King Shaka International Airport.

“The first passenger subsequently took ill and remains in isolation at a healthcare facility, while the other two passengers are asymptomatic and in isolation at paid lodgings,” he said.

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