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

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

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

He said the country hit 6,000 Covid infections on Wednesday, and while there was a slight dip to just over 4,000 Covid-19 infections on Thursday, that could be due to Wednesday’s public holiday which saw fewer people testing.

Phaahla said the country’s positivity rate remains quite high at 17%, adding that this is the first time South Africa has seen a resurgence in infections since the end of 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 National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) Dr Waasila Jassat said an increase in cases has been recorded in all age groups, but the highest number of cases is currently in the 10-14 age group.

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However, she added that hospital admissions and death rates have not shown large increases.

Are we in a fifth wave of Covid-19?

Phaahla said that while it is not yet clear if South Africa has entered wave five, the numbers suggest we are on the verge of having one.

Clinical Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Prof. Salim Abdool Karim said the next seven days will determine whether South Africa actually enters a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections.

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

He added that Easter and other religious holidays could have led to an increase in infections, and the health department will need to monitor the number of infections 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 indoors, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

Is there a new variant?

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

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Dr. Richard Lessells of the Genomic Sequencing Network explained that the BA.4 and BA.5 are not new variants, but rather a diversification of the Omicron variant.

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

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

I have emphasized that the primary public health measure against all variants is and always will be vaccination to prevent serious disease.