By Nyaradzo Nyere
Zimbabwe is investigating the number of Covid-19 variants circulating in the country after it was recently discovered that the Delta variant was behind the third wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
The southern African country saw a huge jump in Covid-19 cases beginning in June and experts attributed the surge to the more transmissible Delta variant that was first discovered in India.
July 2021 was the deadliest month since the Covid-19 outbreak started in Zimbabwe with deaths rising from 1,789 on June 30 to 3,490 by July 30.
The Health and Child Care ministry said it was now carrying genome sequencing to determine the most dominant variants in Zimbabwe.
Variants are viruses that have changed or mutated. They are common with the coronavirus.
“A SARS-CoV-2 variant becomes a variant of concern (VOC) when its changes, have a clinical or public health significance that affects one or more of, transmissibility (spread) or virulence (severity of disease) or change in clinical disease presentation or vaccine effectiveness and diagnostic testing or therapeutics,” the ministry said in its latest fact sheet.
Agnes Mahomva, chief coordinator to the national Covid-19 response, said at the peak of the second wave, genomic sequencing showed that the Beta variant was responsible for 60 percent of the cases.
“We had no Delta variant then,” Mahomva said.
“Recently, genomic sequencing done on the Kwekwe cases showed that we now had the Delta variant, but the scientists were not aware of the extent the variant had spread.
“So currently genomic sequencing tests are being done to ascertain what percentage the Delta variant has affected.”
According to the World Health Organisation, virus genome sequencing is playing a vital role in efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic globally.
Sequencing enabled the world to rapidly identify Sars-CoV-2 and knowing the genome sequence allowed rapid development of diagnostic tests and other tools for the response, WHO said.
“Continued genome sequencing is enabling health authorities, governments and researchers to monitor the evolution of Covid-19 and adjust the response accordingly,” it added.
The Health and Child Care ministry said symptoms and signs of the Delta variant were not that different from other known variants that cause Covid-19.
Covid-19 symptoms include fever, cough, tiredness, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhoea, headache, loss of taste or smell, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath and chest pain or pressure.
“We in Zimbabwe were able to detect the positive samples from Kwekwe and on sequencing they were all Delta positive,” the ministry said.
“The reason is most diagnostic kits can detect two or three of gene proteins that are part of the virus.
“Most of the kits detect what is called the S protein, so for as long as the S protein is there the PCR kit currently in use in the country can detect the Delta variant.”
However, there are PCR kits which are being manufactured which detect specific variants of concern without the need for sequencing.
The government is encouraging Zimbabweans to get vaccinated as the vaccines have been proven to offer protection against the coronavirus variants.
“Vaccines do offer protection against severe disease by the Delta variant, possible reduced protection against symptomatic disease and infection,” the ministry added.
“Protection offered against severe disease also means protection against hospitalisation and significantly reduced risk of deaths.”