South Africa has possibly entered the Covid-19 fifth wave which appears to have arrived earlier than predicted.
During a media briefing on Friday, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said, with a “resounding yes” that the country is witnessing a sustained increase in cases.
“We have been expecting — as advised by our scientists— that the fifth wave will probably hit in the middle of May or early in June. The question at the top of our minds is whether we have entered the fifth wave, which is much earlier than predicted” he said.
The department will be monitoring daily infections, said Phaahla, and the next seven days will provide a clearer indication if the country has entered the fifth wave.
Leading epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim advised the Health Department that from his calculations of cases per 100 000 people, it appears the country has entered the fifth wave.
Phaahla said scientists had predicted the new wave could be driven by a new and more transmissible variant, however, at this stage the Omicron subvariants are accounting for most reported cases.
Infectious diseases expert at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) Dr Richard Lessells, said the resurgence had been driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 variant which accounts for the majority of genomic testing.
“South Africa has a complex mix of immunity acquired from vaccines and infection from previous variants. However, a waning immunity against infection may be contributing to the resurgence,” he said.
On Thursday, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 4 146 new Covid-19 cases. This increase represents a 18.3% positivity rate.
The majority of new cases are from Gauteng with 53% followed by Kwa-Zulu-Natal with 23%, and the Western Cape with 11%.
Phaahla said the three provinces accounted for over 85% of new cases in the country.
“We decided to wait a bit longer to observe this trend before we could communicate with the public just to be able to have at least 14 days of observation of whether this upward trend would be sustained,” he said.
“The week of 18 April there was an increase in hospital admissions from 346 in the previous week to 800 admitted in hospitals. This does not threaten our health capacity but it is a trend that shows an increase.”
Phaahla encouraged the public to get vaccinated before the winter months and said that over 50% of adults had not received at least one jab.