Johannesburg – Omicron, the new variant of Covid-19, is increasing hospitalisations among children under five years of age, according to South African health officials.
South Africa has seen Covid-19 cases double as a result of Omicron, touted as the most transmissible variant of the virus so far.
"It has also emerged that hospitalisation cases have increased for children under five in the fourth wave," local media quoted Health Minister Joe Phaahla as saying.
According to the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), there's been a steep rise in cases over the last seven days.
"A new trend in this wave is the increase in hospitalisation of children under five," Wassila Jassat, public health specialist at the NICD was quoted as saying.
The NICD also said that children under the age of two account for about 10 percent of total hospital admissions in Tshwane, the Omicron epicentre in South Africa, the report said.
“Toddlers getting sick is a cause for concern. Children below the age of two make up 10 percent of Omicron-related hospitalisation,” Jassat said.
More kids are being admitted than during the early stages of the country entering the current fourth wave of infections, although a similar trend occurred during the third wave when Delta was dominant, Jassat said.
She added that hospital admissions have been increasing nationally, adding that admission trends in Gauteng are higher than in the previous waves.
There are 1,351 patients in Gauteng hospitals. Nationally, the general bed occupancy is at 1.9 percent and for ICU it is 4.2 percent, Phaahla was quoted as saying.
"Indications are that the new Omicron variant is highly transmissible and most hospitalisations are as a result of unvaccinated people," said Phaahla, even as he urged people to get vaccinated as the first line of protection from the virus.
However, he sounded optimistic about fighting the Omicron wave.
"We can manage this fourth wave. We can manage Omicron. We can in the next period manage in a way where the government doesn't have to invoke serious restrictions in the next few days," he said.