AHRI PhD student and lab supervisor Sandile Cele has received a special recognition award from the Minister for Public Service and Administration, Ayanda Dlodlo, at the 7th National Batho Pele Excellence Awards for his contributions to Covid-19 research.

The annual awards are hosted by the Department of Public Service and Administration to honour top performing public servants. This year’s theme was ‘Combating the Covid-19 pandemic through a Batho Pele focus: Putting People First,’ and aimed to highlight the strength and resilience of public servants in combating the pandemic. This year the awards also included four special Ministerial Covid-19 awards.

“I am honoured to receive this award,” Sandile said. “The past two years were filled with busy days and sleepless nights for the whole team, who gave it their all. It’s an honour to be recognised for the hard work and effort we put in.”

Sandile led some of the South African and global research response to Covid-19, including studies to isolate and characterise the Beta and Omicron variants. With the Sigal group, he was the first in the world to report the immune escape of Omicron. He additionally led the study that described how variants can evolve in Sub-Saharan Africa. While most research groups use pseudostyle SARS-CoV-2, Sandile also developed a creative way to isolate live virus from infected individuals.

“I am very proud of Sandile. He has done cutting-edge work which has really shifted our understanding of Covid-19 globally,” said AHRI faculty member and group leader, Professor Alex Sigal. “I am very happy he has started to get recognition in South Africa for his efforts; it really was a sacrifice for him and his family, given that he had to work throughout all the holidays for the past two years. But the sacrifice did make an impactful difference, and I am very proud of what he’s done, and that he’s got this recognition.”