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Two Omicron sub-variants behind spike in Covid-19 cases as SA braces for fifth wave

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Two Omicron sub-variants are driving an increase in Covid-19 cases in South Africa and could push the country over the threshold to the fifth wave.

A nurse holds swabs and test tube to test people for COVID-19 at a drive through station set up in the parking lot of the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., Monday, March 16, 2020. Picture: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

TWO Omicron sub-variants are driving an increase in Covid-19 cases in South Africa and could push the country over the threshold to the fifth wave.

Dr Harsha Somaroo, public health medicine specialist at the University of the Witwatersrand said the health system should be prepared for a potential increase in admissions.

“The recent increase in the number of new Covid-19 cases that have been diagnosed, and increased viral transmission throughout the country, are significant and warrant early mitigation responses,” she said.

On Wednesday the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 6 170 new Covid-19 cases, which represents a 22.6% positivity rate.

The majority of cases recorded are from Gauteng with 41%, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 27%, and the Western Cape accounting for 14% of new cases.

Somaroo said while cases have increased, the country has not yet officially entered the fifth wave.

“The official definition of the next wave is dependent on the previous wave, which peaked at a high level of cases, so the threshold to declare the fifth wave is high.

“At this point in time, the country might cross the threshold for a fifth wave and there is a possibility that the case numbers might also peak soon,” she said.

Somaroo said the relaxing of the Disaster Management Act restrictions is not likely to be the cause of increased cases, as the measures to reduce transmission of the virus were kept in place.

“The increase in new Covid-19 cases was driven by new sub-variants and increased opportunities for viral transmission. I think increased travel and gatherings over the Easter long weekend, with likely poor adherence to Covid-19 preventative behaviours, contributed to the exponential increase in Covid-19 cases,” she said.

The country’s healthcare system may be able to manage the fifth wave, said Somaroo, due to their experience gained over the past two years.

“It is quite likely that hospital services are well prepared ahead of the fifth wave, with adequate plans in place for responding to a potential increase in demand for hospital beds and related resources.

“The country managed the Omicron wave well, and the outcomes observed were supported by the fact that we had a Covid-19 vaccination programme in place and that there was significant population immunity due to previous infections,” she said.

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