Pretoria - The new subvariant of Covid-19 is not deadly, according to experts.
The subvariant is expected to drive the fifth wave of the pandemic at the end of April or May in South Africa. It is known as Deltacron, a mixture of the Omicron and Delta variants, and has appeared in South Africa.
While President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that some restrictions were being relaxed this week, South Africans are urged to observe the regulations that are in place.
Senior researcher at the CSIR Dr Ridhwaan Suliman told the Pretoria News that the present evidence and data showed the variant was more transmissible than any other variants.
“But there is no indication that it is more severe or more deadly as compared to the original Omicron variant,” Suliman said.
He said the variant was dominant in the country and had been prevalent soon after the original Omicron strain, which was responsible for the fourth surge. This week Suliman was one of the speakers at the SA Healthcare Industry Summit 2022, where he indicated that the country could expect further waves going forward “based on what we have seen in the past two years with the fourth waves that we have experienced”.
Speaking to the Pretoria News, he said: “But I don’t think we should approach that with the same fear or anxiety like before. As we saw with Omicron, the high levels of immunity in the community are able to lessen or decouple the link between cases and outcomes of hospitalisation and death.”
While he advocated for those with comorbidities to receive booster shots, Suliman said the country has high levels of population immunity with recent studies indicating 68% to 80% of immunity.
“A recent study after the Omicron showed up to 85% of immunity in Gauteng alone. That means there is a very high level of immunity and that is what has offered protections against the outcome of hospitalisation,” he said.
However, he said it was important for those at risk to have booster shots for more protection.
“We know that infections continue to spread even in vaccinated people and in those previously infected. I feel that those at risk should gain those levels of protection. It should be targeted to those with comorbidities and where the risk factors are high,” he said.
Despite the looming fifth wave, Ramaphosa eased the Covid-19 restrictions, citing evidence by scientists that the country has some 60 to 80% of population immunity to the virus.
Suliman welcomed the relaxation of restrictions, saying there was justification for doing so during this period.
“At the moment a lot of Covid-19 indicators are still trending down, levels of transmission are quite low.
“Confirmed cases are slowly declining but most importantly our hospitalisation and the reported deaths are approaching the lowest level as compared to the fourth wave,” he said.
However, he said some of the restrictions, such as a one-metre physical distance and the number of people allowed in gatherings, were “still a little bit arbitrary”.
He added that the country could still go back to the restrictions, depending on the severity of future variants.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t go back to restrictions where it is necessary and data backs that up,” Suliman said.