Johannesburg - The government has continued to urge South Africans to vaccinate against Covid-19 as recent statistics revealed that more than 80% of patients currently admitted to hospitals in Pretoria were unvaccinated.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported that Covid-19 cases, including that of the new Omicron variant, were highest in Gauteng, and in particular Pretoria.
"Most of our daily increases at this stage are from Gauteng, at about 81%. There has been a tremendous increase in the past 10 to 14 days,” said Dr Michelle Groome, head of the division of public health surveillance and response at the NICD.
Dr Waasila Jassat, also of the NICD, said that unvaccinated patients suffered more severe symptoms than vaccinated ones, and were most likely to face hospitalisation if infected by the new Covid-19 variant. She reported that 87% of all admissions in Pretoria were unvaccinated patients.
“We have been tracking this across the country since February, and what we can say is there is a much higher chance of death among those who are unvaccinated,” Dr Jassat said.
She was one of many experts who provided detailed feedback during a media briefing held by the Health Ministry yesterday.
Dr Salim Abdool-Karim, who also presented, said they were quite amazed at how fast the number of infections was rising, “but we were not caught with our pants down”.
“We expected and prepared for a new variant as far back as in September. The government then invested in building capacity to do genomic frequency, and this early evidence has given us the best fighting chance against this new variant,” he said.
Abdool-Karim said that while there was still a lack of evidence on whether the current vaccines were effective against the new variant, he said that evidence should present itself over the next few weeks.
“But, we do expect that vaccines should hold well against the hospitalisation of those who are infected,” he said.
He added that the biggest challenge would be preventing super-spreader events.
The scientists and department also urged those who were already vaccinated to motivate others to vaccinate and strictly follow preventive measures such as mask-wearing and the washing of hands.
Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said the rise of infections served as a reminder there was a deadly virus in our midst, and that citizens should use what was tried and tested in preventing severe cases of Covid-19.
While more than 16.5 million South Africans are fully vaccinated, the department’s Dr Nicholas Crisp said that many more people remained unvaccinated.
So far, early information showed that most Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital and experiencing severe symptoms were unvaccinated, the department said.
Phaahla held a detailed media briefing on Monday to further unpack the address by President Cyril Ramaphosa, and to present a state of readiness to respond to the Omicron variant.
Research has also shown that most patients are presenting similar symptoms to other Covid-19 variants. However, in particular, concerns have been raised about the rise of infections in young children and babies.
Scientists and experts that presented at the briefing said the Health Department may have to focus on paediatric hospital beds preparedness in this fourth wave.
Dr Jassat said they had seen a sharp increase in infections over the past few days, with most cases among those aged between 10 and 29 years old.
She also spoke of the increase in the number of hospital admissions in Pretoria, however other regions in Gauteng also showed an increase.
The experts also spoke out against the closing of South Africa’s borders, saying that there was no science to support such decisions.
Phaahla, Abdool-Karim and Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela reiterated the government’s frustration at the decision made by other countries.
Abdool-Karim said there was no benefit in closing the borders as the Omicron variant had been detected in at least 11 other countries by yesterday.
Monyela said that they had received reports from South Africans stranded in cities around the world. He said any stranded South African must go to their nearest South African embassy for assistance.
“It is very unfortunate, sad and quite regrettable to know that travel restrictions have been imposed on South Africa by other African countries. This decision is unwarranted and not based on science. Dirco is engaging all the countries with a view to persuading them to reverse this decision,” he said.