Ministry of Health (MoH) says people must strictly uphold Covid-19 preventive measures following the detection of a new variant in South Africa known as C.1.2 that has multiple mutations.
Health experts on Tuesday feared the new variant will reverse gains so far made that have led to low death and positivity rates in the country.
According to international media reports, it is not yet known if the C.1.2 variant is more contagious or able to overcome immunity provided by vaccines.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, MoH spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said the ministry is banking on the country’s robust detection system to track the new variant.
He said: “This is not the first variant to be detected so our emphasis is not only on the new detected variant. We have a robust system in place which is able to detect at the point of entry.
“But there is need for high levels of compliance to preventive measures even at this point when we are having low numbers of new infections.”
Currently, the country has detected three Covid-19 viruses, namely the Indian variant (Delta or B.1.617.2), the South African variant (Beta or B.1.351) and the United Kingdom (UK) variant (Alpha or B.1.1.7).
This means the country so far has three of the four variants classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as VOC’s, whose characteristics include increased transmissibility and secondary attack rate for Alpha and Delta.
Infectious disease expert and epidemiologist Dr Titus Divala on Tuesday said it is time for the country to step up efforts in preventive measures to avoid potential transmissibility of the new variant.
He said: “Emergence of variants can be slowed down by slowing transmissions which consequently limits opportunities for viral replication. “The most effective measures for reducing transmission include vaccinations, physical distancing, mask use and general avoidance of indoor gatherings and hand and face hygiene. As a country, we have not done so well on these measures and maybe now with this threat it is time to step up our efforts.”
On his part, Malawi University of Science and Technology microbiologist Dr Gama Bandawe described the C.1.2 as a variant of concern because it has many characteristics as other variants and from a lineage that was not dominant found in low quantities in previous waves.
He said one of the implications for the country is that such variants tend to emerge in populations where there are large numbers of unvaccinated people, which is exactly the situation with Malawi apart from emerging in people with immune compromised people.
The C.1.2 variant was first detected in May in provinces of Mpumalanga and Gauteng in South Africa.
But by August 13, the variant had spread to six out of nine South Africa’s provinces.
Information from the Public Health Institute of Malawi shows that as of Monday, the country had a total of 60 386 cumulative confirmed cases, 2 168 reported deaths and 47 640 total recovered cases.