The rise in Covid cases should serve as a warning to unvaccinated people: the health department

Although symptoms may be relatively mild compared to the first and second waves, Covid is still a life-threatening disease, according to Department of Health spokesman Foster Mohale.

Mohale said daily infections have increased in the past seven days and this should serve as a warning to people, especially the unvaccinated.

“Covid remains a pandemic until the World Health Organization declares otherwise,” he said.

READ ALSO: South Africa on the brink of the fifth wave of Covid-19 – Phaahla

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said yesterday that the department has noticed an increase in Covid infections over the past two weeks, particularly in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

While he said it was still unclear whether the fifth wave had started in South Africa, Phaahla said the numbers suggested SA was on the brink.

“As of yesterday, Gauteng alone accounted for 53% of positive cases, KZN for 23% and Western Cape for 11%,” Phaahla said.

University of Pretoria associate professor of health systems and public health, Dr Elize Webb, said the increase was likely caused by rain and cold conditions as people were in closer contact and stayed indoors, which caused further transmission.

According to Webb, even though the disease was mild with a low mortality rate, it had a higher caseload.

“However, the observed increase is not at the same level as previous waves. A dramatic increase will likely point to a new variant, which is not the case now,” he said.

The virus and the disease have become endemic, Webb said. However, the omicron variant was still responsible for the majority of infections in SA.

“Different variants can make you sick again and the current literature points to six months of protection against vaccines. Thus the government’s call for us all to continue to protect ourselves
booster shots,” he said.

“The SA population has been very slow to take up the vaccine with 44% vaccinated, so we may have a warning that people are also susceptible to reinfection.”

Webb added that everyone was still affected by Covid and that SA should certainly not think it was all over.

“The virus is something we all have to learn to live with for some time,” he said.

Phaahla said the country’s positivity rate remained quite high at 17%, adding that this was the first time SA had witnessed a resurgence of infections since the end of the national state of disaster.

With the possibility of a new variant, Phaahla noted that scientists had only confirmed that the omicron subvariants were BA.4 and BA.5, which were not enough to be defined as variants of concern because the changes were not significant.

Dr Richard Lessells from the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform said BA.4 and BA.5 were not new variants, but diversifications of the omicron variant.

“There is some evidence that these new lineages are replacing the previous dominant lineage, BA.2. The new lineages account for half of the cases since the beginning of April,” he said.

– lungas@citadán.

Additional reporting by Xanet Scheepers

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