Namibia: Confusion Over Variant Testing

A medical scientist works on testing of the novel coronavirus.

MINISTER of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula says Namibia has not yet established whether it will explore testing for the new variant of the novel coronavirus despite the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying the country has already started working with partners.

Two new variants of Covid-19 have been discovered in South Africa's Eastern Cape and in the United Kingdom, where it was first identified in Kent, southeast England, in December.

South Africa's variant, which is known as 501.V2, is said to be more contagious than the one found in the UK. Shangula said the discovery of the new variant was only made a few weeks ago and as a result the ministry is still looking into the possibility of testing for it.

The minister has repeatedly said there is a possibility that the country now has the 501.V2 but this needs confirmation by a laboratory test.

"When Covid-19 broke out, we were not ready and sent our samples to South Africa and the same applies with the new variant, but at the moment we are still looking into testing for the variant," Shangula said.

He did, however, say there is a possibility to explore the option. New cases have recently spiked to an average of 460 per day in Namibia.

Meanwhile, CDC country director Eric Dzuiban said Namibia is working with laboratories in other countries to test Namibian samples.

"Our likelihood of having it here is pretty high but we do not have proof yet but the laboratories are working on that... It requires a type of testing that is not available in Namibia, but they are working on their partnerships with laboratories in other countries to get that information," Dzuiban said.

Dzuiban suspects the new variant is in Namibia because the country's Covid-19 outbreaks have been closely linked to those in South Africa.

He said visitors from South Africa would increase the possibility of the variant coming into the country.

"The virus is so good at spreading that it can out compete the regular coronavirus spreading from person to person that means the likelihood of having it here is pretty high but we do not have proof of that yet as laboratories are working on that," he added

Currently, five other countries - Switzerland, Finland, Japan, South Korea and Zambia - have confirmed the South African variant.

The World Health Organisation said these countries are currently conducting epidemiological and virological investigations to assess the transmissibility, severity, risk of reinfection and antibody response to new variants.

South African genomics scientists, led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), identified the variant.

They have been analysing coronavirus genetic samples from different parts of the country since the start of the pandemic, and in recent weeks these samples were dominated by a new variant.

South Africa's health minister, Zweli Mkhize, recently told the media that there was a shift in the clinical picture in that a larger portion of younger people with no comorbidities were presenting with severe illness. Namibia yesterday recorded 501 novel coronavirus infections.

"Today, we announce 501 new Covid-19 confirmed cases identified from 2 034 results received from the laboratories in the last 24 hours," Shangula said.

He added: "We continue to receive confirmed cases of pupils, teachers and students during the holidays. Among the confirmed cases, 32 are healthcare workers."

Last month, the chairman of the Africa Public Health Foundation, a foundation of Africa Centres for Disease Control, Bernard Haufiku, said there is no need for draconian laws or for a state of emergency re-imposition.

He said cases are likely to continue rising until this month, or even beyond, if the public does not heed and practise public health measures that are in place.

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