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

Speaking during a virtual media briefing on Friday morning, Health Minister Dr Joe Fahla said the Ministry of Health had seen an increase in Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks, especially in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

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

He said there were 6,000 Covid cases in the country on Wednesday, and while there was a slight drop to just over 4,000 Covid-19 infections on Thursday, that could be due to a public holiday on Wednesday when fewer people were tested.

Fahla said the country’s positivity rate remains quite high at 17%, adding that this is the first time South Africa has seen a spike in infections since the end of the national disaster.

However, the percentage of positive results in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal is slightly higher – 20%.

National Institute for Infectious Diseases (NICD) Public Health Specialist Dr. Vaasila Yassat this increase in cases has been reported across all age groups, but the largest number of cases now occur in the 10 to 14 age group.

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However, she added that the number of hospitalizations and deaths did not increase much.

Are we in the fifth wave of Covid-19?

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

Clinical infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdul Karim said the next seven days would determine if South Africa was indeed in the fifth wave of Covid-19 infections.

“We can only say that we are in the fifth wave if more than 6,237 cases per day are recorded within 7 days,” Faala said.

He added that Easter and other religious holidays could lead to a spike in infections, and the health department would need to monitor the number of infections over the next two weeks.

Fahla urged South Africans to stay vigilant and get vaccinated before winter as people will be spending more time indoors, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

Is there a new option?

Fahla said the scientists only confirmed that the Omicron sub-variants are BA.4 and BA.5, but this is not enough to be identified as variants of concern because the changes are not that significant.

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Dr. Richard Lessels of the Genome Sequencing Network explained that BA.4 and BA.5 are not new variants, but rather a variation of the Omicron variant.

“There is some evidence that these new lines are replacing the previous dominant line, BA.2. New pedigrees account for half of the cases since early April,” he said.

Dr. Lessels said weakened immunity against Covid-19 infection could also contribute to a resurgence of new infections.

He stressed that the key public health measure against all options is and always will be vaccination to prevent serious illness.