Cape Town: South Africa is being hit by a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant which has been detected in seven of the country’s nine provinces, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday.
Omicron, which has raised global fears of a surge in infections, was first detected in southern Africa last month and has prompted governments across continents to impose travel curbs and take other measures to contain it.
Phaahla told a media briefing that he hoped that the variant could be managed without causing too many deaths.He urged South Africans to get fully vaccinated, adding that the country could manage the fourth wave without stricter lockdown restrictions over Christmas.”
We can still manage this in a manner where government doesn’t have to invoke serious restrictions over the next few days if we all just do our basic duties of the safety measures, but also if more and more of us who are eligible … approach their nearest vaccination sites,” Phaahla said.Top scientist Michelle Groome of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said at the briefing the country was facing an “unprecedented rise” in infections over a short time due to Omicron.
The infections were also moving from the younger age cohort into older people, she said.It was important for surge preparedness to include paediatric beds and staff as there has been increased admissions among children under four, she said.
Doctors in South Africa said Friday there had been a spike in hospitalisations among young children after Omicron swept through the country but stressed it was early to know if they were particularly susceptible.In the week since South Africa alerted the world of the new Covid variant, infections have spread faster than in the country’s three previous waves.
The first cluster of cases centred around university students, and then spread quickly among young people who seem to have spread it to older people.
But scientists and health officials said they had seen increasing hospital admissions in children under five, along with higher positivity rates among children aged 10-14.Wassila Jassat, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said “We’ve seen quite a sharp increase across all age groups, particularly in the under fives,” referring to hospitalisations.”The incidence in those under fives is now second-highest, and second only to the incidence in those over 60,” she told a news conference.Scientists cited several possible reasons.
One is that children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccines in South Africa. Doctors have reported anecdotally that both children and parents testing positive have not been vaccinated, she said.
NICD’s head of public health Michelle Groome said the virus was spreading faster than at any point in the pandemic in Gauteng, the province where Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria are located.”Preliminary data suggests Omicron is more transmissible and has some immune evasion,” she said.
South African scientists on Thursday reported that the reinfections were three times as likely with Omicron, compared to the Delta or Beta strains.Although generally patients are showing milder symptoms, Groome cautioned that the onset of serious illness would only be expected over the coming two weeks.