Identity of patient infected with the new Covid-19 variant is unknown

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the identity of the person who tested positive for the XXB.1.5 variant is unknown. Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA)

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the identity of the person who tested positive for the XXB.1.5 variant is unknown. Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 11, 2023


Durban — The Department of Health has no idea who the patient infected with the new Coronavirus variant XBB.1.5 or “Kraken variant” is.

This was revealed by Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, on Tuesday during a media briefing to give an update on what measures the country will take regarding the new variant which is one of the 100 sub-variants of the Omicron strain.

The case was detected by the Stellenbosch University Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) on Friday. However, Phaahla said the case was detected in December in the country and was reported this year.

Phaahla said it was random samples submitted to Stellenbosch University, hence they do not have the identity of the person who tested positive for the Kraken variant.

Moreover, the minister said the National Coronavirus Council agreed and approved that there was no need for South Africa to impose travel restrictions because of the XBB.1.5 strain.

They believed that the immunity in the country was still strong and that puts South Africa at less risk. He said thus far, there has been no indication of a change in the severity of the illness.

“The Ministerial Advisory Committees and the World Health Organization have been consulted and it has been found that there is no need to impose travel measures and no need to impose restrictions in the country,” said Phaahla.

The situation has caused a lot of panic, he said, and has led to stricter travel restrictions and measures in some countries.

He further stated that they were advised to increase the rate of testing for Covid-19, and encouraged those experiencing symptoms to approach health facilities and to encourage healthcare workers to order Covid-19 tests. Positive tests will be sent for genomic sequencing.

“The NICD will also increase wastewater testing, including from aircraft from high-burden countries. Currently, these will be China but possibly the US and any other country which emerges with rising infections,“ he said.

Phaahla said the vaccination campaign will also be reinvigorated.

Qualification for boosters will also be adjusted to possibly include all adults, this will be finalised in the next few days.

“Vaccination remains the bedrock to protect against any variant or sub-variant of Covid-19 and not travel restrictions or any new restrictions at this stage,” Phaahla said.

They have been monitoring the virus for some time, he said. Globally, there has been an increase of up to 25% in December and a 12% rise in fatalities.

“In the last week of December, there were more than 3 million new infections globally and at least 10 000 deaths. However, there were reductions in infections but China’s infections increased.”

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the Division of Public Health, Surveillance and Response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said the XBB.1.5 was expected as the Omicron variant has had multiple sub-variants.

The new variant does not mean that it will dominate everywhere, Groome said.

“There have been variants across the globe and they all did not dominate in all the different countries. We have had variants that did not dominate in South Africa but did in other countries,” she explained.

She agreed with the minister that the high levels of immunity do not put the country at great risk.

Groome added that there will be additional boosters. One booster will be added from the previous number and they will be available towards the end of the month.

Daily News