By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize called for "calm" following an uproar on social media over reports that a person, who travelled from India to South Africa, tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.
Many people had raised questions on why the person was allowed to travel to the country in light of the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in India, particularly the different variants, including the B.1.617 coronavirus variant.
However, the minister has since dismissed claims that there were direct flights from India into South Africa, adding that "that all our ports of entry employ stringent containment procedures to minimise the importation of Covid-19".
"We are currently on high alert to screen passengers and test those who require further assessment," he said.
Mkhize assured citizens that the B.1.617 variant has not been detected in South Africa as of yet.
"We have not detected the B.1.617 variant as yet in South Africa, however, we have consulted members of the the genomics team who have informed us that they they have intensified their surveillance not only to ensure that variant can be detected quickly but also to understand what the implications are for us in the context of B.1.351 being the dominant variant in South Africa. This work is ongoing and we commit to continue to be guided by science.
Meanwhile, "we have also consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise us on the approach to management of travelers from countries that have epidemics driven by variants of concern."
"Their advise will assist us to determine the next steps forward, of which government will announce these determinations in due course. For now we ask for calm to prevail as we continue to adhere to the health protocols, tighten containment measures at our ports of entry, and keep a balance as we maintain economic activity," he said.
Mkhize has also confirmed as of Monday, 3 May, the cumulative number of detected Covid-19 cases is 1,584,961 with 897 new cases identified,.
He said a further 35 more Covid-19 related deaths were reported, with 2 from Eastern Cape, 6 from Free State, 7 from Gauteng, 16 from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), 0 from Limpopo, 1 from Mpumalanga, 0 from North West, 2 from Northern Cape and 1 from Western Cape.
This brings the total number of Covid-19 related deaths to 54,452.
A total of 10,715,773 tests have been completed with 16,752 new tests conducted since the last report, while the total number of vaccines that have been administered stands at 329,098.
The minister added that a delivery of 1.1 million Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines has been delayed pending further safety checks, the latest blow to the country’s stop-start inoculation program.
The government ordered 31 million of J&J’s single-dose shots and planned to begin issuing them to people over the age of 60 starting 17 May.
The doses are ready to be issued by Durban-based drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, which has a deal with J&J to complete the final stage of production, but they won’t now be delivered by early this week as previously expected.
The precaution was taken following a production glitch at a plant operated by Emergent BioSolutions in the US, where materials for J&J shots were mixed with those used in doses developed by UK drugmaker AstraZeneca, which were made at the same facility.
The concerns around the importation of variants into the country comes after the Gauteng Department of Health raised red flags about a spike in cases seen in the province.
In a statement published on Monday (3 May), the provincial department said that there was a notable increase in weekly cases in parts of the province including suburbs of Johannesburg, Emfuleni and Tshwane.