South Africa: Health Dept Takes Action After Detection of ‘Kraken’ Covid-19 Sub-Variant

Cape Town — No travel restriction will be imposed on or by South Africa following collaborative efforts with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and additional scientists, despite the discovery of the first case of the XBB.1.5 Covid-19 sub-variant, otherwise known as “Kraken”, in the country.

According to Minister of Health Joseph Phaahla, the new variant is the cause of a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases along the east coast of the U.S. Phaala said: “However, I want to stress that the dominant Covid-19 variant remains the Omicron variant, which is responsible for 97 to 98% of infections that we are seeing globally. The XBB.1.5 variant, BF.7 and the BA.5 variants are sub-variants of the Omicron variant that remains dominant.”

In its collaboration with the WHO, Phaala said more testing will be prioritised: “We have been advised to increase our rate of testing for Covid-19. An increase in testing will also assist our researchers at Stellenbosch University to conduct genome sequencing and detect more cases of the XBB.1.5 variant. We have also been advised to increase our surveillance, which we will be doing with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases by testing wastewater for Covid-19. We will also be testing wastewater on international flights, which includes countries that are known to have seen an increase in Covid-19-positive cases due to the Omicron sub-variants.”

Phaala also called on the public to take booster shots, particularly the elderly and those with comorbidities. “We will be encouraging the age group of 18-49 to get a fourth booster and the age group of over 50 to get a fifth booster. We want to assure members of the public that our vaccines will still protect you against the Omicron sub-variants.”

The health department said there’s been no increase in the number of deaths or hospital admissions from Kraken. However, Phaala expressed concern that vaccine access diminished in both private and public health facilities, and urged the creation of plans to make vaccines more readily available to the most vulnerable.

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