In the wake of the detection of the new B.1.1.529 Covid-19 variant in Southern Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to chair a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) this Sunday to assess the country’s lockdown restrictions.
Minister in The Presidency Mondli Gungubele made the announcement on Friday, saying the NCCC would receive scientific updates around the new variant which was detected initially in three cases in Botswana and six in South Africa.
“The NCCC is one of several structures of government – which include the President’s Coordinating Council and Cabinet – where scientific evidence and submissions by different economic and social sectors inform executive decision-making,” Gungubele said in a statement.
He said the outcomes of the NCCC discussions and further consultations would be communicated in the coming days.
Last month, the NCCC placed the country on adjusted alert level 1 lockdown ahead of the 1 November local government elections after the third wave of the pandemic peaked across the country.
However, new Covid cases have now started to increase, with 2,465 infections and a further 114 related deaths recorded in the last reporting cycle. The majority of new cases came from Gauteng followed by the North West, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
The detection of the B.1.1.529 variant, the low uptake in vaccinations and the dreaded fourth wave of the pandemic have now thrown a spanner in South Africans’ festive season plans as lockdown regulations are likely to be tightened.
Since the announcement of the detection of the B.1.1.529 variant on Thursday, the UK government and other European countries have banned most travel from South Africa as governments scramble to prevent the spread of the variant, which has a large number of mutations.
While South Africa respected the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said the move to temporarily ban travel to SA appeared to be rushed as the World Health Organization (WHO) was yet to advise on the next steps.
Minister Naledi Pandor on Friday raised concerns about the impact of the travel ban on South Africa’s recovering tourism industry, almost two months after its removal from the UK’s red list.
Pandor said government would engage the UK to attempt to persuade them into reconsidering this decision.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” she said in a statement.
Govt urges citizens to vaccinate
At the same time, government has urged South Africans to remain vigilant against Covid-19 and play their part in protecting themselves and the broader community by having themselves vaccinated, while scientists investigate the B.1.1.529 variant.
“The detection by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of a new coronavirus variant demonstrates South Africa’s constant vigilance and scientific capability in our management of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The NICD is in intensive engagement with all established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” Gungubele said.
In the meantime, government has reminded South Africa to observe non-pharmaceutical interventions to prevent the spread of the virus, such as the wearing of face masks, frequent washing or sanitation of hands, keeping a social distance and avoiding large gatherings.