South Africa on the brink of the fifth wave of Covid-19

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said during a virtual press conference on Friday morning that the Department of Health has noticed an increase in Covid-19 infections over the past two weeks, particularly in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal .

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

He said the country had reached 6,000 Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, and while there was a slight drop on Thursday to just over 4,000 Covid-19 infections, this could be due to the holiday on Wednesday which saw fewer tests.

Phaahla said the country’s positivity rate remains quite high at 17%, adding that it is the first time South Africa has seen a resurgence of infections since ending the National State of Disaster.

The positivity rate in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, however, is at a slightly higher rate of 20%.

Public health specialist at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), Dr Waasila Jassat, said there has been an increase in cases among all age groups, but the highest number of cases are currently in the 10- to 14.

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However, he added that hospital admissions and death rates did not show large increases.

Are we in a fifth wave of Covid-19?

Phaahla said that while it is not yet clear whether South Africa has entered the fifth wave, the numbers suggest we are on the brink of one.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious disease clinical epidemiologist, said the next seven days will determine whether South Africa is indeed entering a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections.

“We can only say we are in the fifth wave when there is a sustained 7-day period of more than 6,237 cases per day,” Phaala said.

He added that Holy Week and other religious holidays could result in an increase in infections and that the health department will need to monitor infection numbers over the next two weeks.

Phaahla urged South Africans not to let their guard down and get vaccinated before winter as people will spend more time at home, increasing the risk of the virus spreading.

Is there a new variant?

Phaahla said scientists have only confirmed that the Omicron subvariants are BA.4 and BA.5, but not enough to be defined as variants of concern because the changes are not that significant.

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Dr. Richard Lessells, from the Genome Sequencing Network, explained that BA.4 and BA.5 are not new variants, but a diversification 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.

Dr Lessells said decreased immunity to Covid-19 infection may also contribute to the resurgence of new infections.

He stressed that the main public health measures against all variants are and will always be vaccination to prevent serious diseases.

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