Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
The South African variant is one of three new variant strains of concern, which have emerged in recent months. The other two are the Kent variant and the Brazil variant.
We are tracking these closely because they are more contagious and fast moving than the original strain of coronavirus, which we have been dealing with throughout most of the pandemic.
The four governments in the UK have suspended the travel corridors scheme, which means that all arrivals to the UK are now required to quarantine for 10 days. Enhanced quarantine and testing requirements have also been introduced for people returning to the UK from certain countries, where these overseas variants of concern have been identified or are believe to be a risk.
We have argued for these requirements to apply to people returning from all international destinations and for an approach to quarantine and border control, which involves the Republic of Ireland.
To help us detect and contain cases of overseas variants of concern, everyone returning to Wales from certain countries around the world where these variants are confirmed or suspected to be present must quarantine, together with members of their household. The requirement for household contacts to quarantine is an additional precaution to prevent any possible spread.
All travellers are offered a test to check for the variant. If the tests are positive, the person’s household contacts will also be tested. All positive tests are sent for genomic sequencing.
In addition to this quarantine and testing system, we also have a well-established surveillance system in place in Wales. A proportion of all tests undertaken in Wales are genomically sequenced. More than 25,000 sequences were generated by the end of last year – one of the highest rates in the world.
Thirteen cases of the South African variant have been identified in Wales to date. This is an increase of three from last week.
Ten of these cases have clear links to either South Africa or to international travel. In the other three cases, there is currently no clear evidence of how they may have caught the virus.
Two of these cases are in North Wales – in Anglesey and in Conwy. They have the same genetic sequence and they were tested on the same day. The third case is in Neath Port Talbot.
Public Health Wales is carrying out a detailed and forensic investigation into each of these cases to discover when and how each person became infected with the South African variant strain and whether there is any evidence of wider community spread.
In each case, we will draw on the skills of our successful contact tracing teams to look back at where each case has been and who they have been in close contact with. We will use the skills of Public Health Wales’ epidemiologists and we will also use targeted testing to identify any further spread.
The emergence of all these new strains – initially the Kent strain, which has quickly become the dominant form of coronavirus in Wales, and now the South African and Brazilian variant – mean it is more important than ever that we all follow the rules to keep us all safe, especially the basics.
This means keeping our distance from others; washing our hands regularly; wearing a face covering when we’re in indoor public spaces; ensuring good ventilation indoors and staying at home as soon as we have symptoms and arranging to get a test.
I will continue to keep members updated.