Nurses in personal protective equipment (PPE) in an isolation ward. File photo: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).
Nurses in personal protective equipment (PPE) in an isolation ward. File photo: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Deadly Delta Covid-19 variant starting to dominate in SA, scientists warn

By Siyabonga Mkhwanazi, Keshia Africa, Reuters Time of article published Jun 27, 2021

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Fourth wave likely to emerge around November and December because the vaccine rollout is too slow.

By Alexander Winning, Keshia Africa, Siyabonga Mkhwanazi

NEW coronavirus infections in South Africa appear to be dominated by the Delta variant that was first identified in India, scientists said yesterday as a third wave swept the country.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation at 8pm tonight after the government put out a statement about a flurry of meetings to consider measures to respond to the Delta variant and the surge in infections.

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) will meet again today to look at the reports.

“This will be followed by the Presidential Co-ordinating Council (PCC), which includes premiers, executive mayors and representatives of traditional leadership. A special Cabinet meeting will take place to process the recommendations,” said Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams.

South Africa recorded more than 18 000 new infections on Friday, with 215 deaths. Gauteng has the highest active cases with 76 295, followed by 15 668 cases in the Western Cape.

The country’s second coronavirus wave was driven by the Beta variant first detected locally, but the Delta variant now looks to be leading new infections, specialists said.

“A new variant seems to be not only arising, but it seems to start dominating the infections in South Africa,” Professor Tulio de Oliveira from the University of KwaZulu-Natal told a news conference.

“It completely took over,” he said, adding that the Delta variant was more transmissible even than the Beta variant.

Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told the news conference it was now likely that the peak of the third wave would surpass that of the second wave in January, when more than 21 000 new daily cases were recorded.

She said the restrictions in Gauteng were not effective.

“If the NCCC agrees to have new restrictions, that will be taken by the PCC and then the Presidency. We need to consider what we are facing to manage the surge,” said Kubayi-Ngubane.

She said all measures would have to be taken to contain the spread.

Kubayi-Ngubane said they were concerned about the situation in Gauteng. But other provinces would follow the trend.

“We remain very worried about the rise in hospitalisation which is putting a lot of strain on the health facilities in Gauteng. The trends are clearly showing that other provinces are going to experience the trend we are seeing in Gauteng, notably in the Western and Eastern Cape,” said Kubayi-Ngubane.

Kubayi-Ngubane called on South Africans to adhere to strict health protocols and warned political parties not to host super spreader events, a reference to the EFF march on South African Health Products Regulatory Authority offices in Pretoria on Friday.

“If you have an event that has too many people, it is a super spreader,” said Kubayi-Ngubane.

Health experts also said yesterday the AstraZeneca and Pfizer were effective against the Delta with two shots.

A single dose of either of the two vaccines would be less effective.

Professor De Oliveira said the Delta variant was highly transmissible compared to other variants.

“It is highly transmissible, more than any other variant. When transmissions are rising very fast it, will overwhelm our hospitals,” he said.

Dr Richard Lessells said it was encouraging that Pfizer and AstraZeneca were effective against the new variant.

“It is very encouraging news that the vaccines retain good protection against the Delta variant. Delta is becoming a dominant variant in many countries in the world,” he said.

The rollout of vaccines has been slow, with just 2.7 million administered so far out of a population of 60 million.

Meanwhile, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand Shabir Madhi said a fourth wave was likely to emerge around November and December because the vaccine rollout was too slow.

“The roll-out is moving far too slowly, the initial target of December ... moved to February 2022 and we will still miss it.

“The government needs to change tactics and vaccinate about 15 to 17 million high-risk individuals instead,” he said.

Madhi said doses should be available to everyone over 40 who had underlying health complications.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine has been proven to perform extremely well against the Delta variant in the UK.” He considered the government exploring the use of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac a waste of time,” Madhi said.

“The Novavax vaccine is far superior, including probably against either the beta or delta variants.”

UWC director of research and development Professor Burtram Fielding warned “multiple waves of a virus of this nature are expected.”

Fielding said speeding up vaccinations need to be accompanied by targeted vaccinations. Research has helped develop accurate risk calculators, to make this easier.

“Let's look at the demographics and people living with co-morbitities and start there. The vaccine is not the silver bullet that will solve all our problems, but there will be fewer deaths.”

Fielding said a lockdown was only effective when enforced correctly.

“Our socio-economic disparities are too large for a lockdown to be properly enforced,” Fielding said.

“How do you tell someone living in Khayelitsha that they need to be socially distanced by two metres when the houses are not even two metres apart?”

The UWC director said the Covid-19 statistics were not an accurate reflection of active cases.

“We are only reporting positive cases based on testing and we are not focusing on people who asymptomatic, they are spreading the virus too.”

- Additional reporting by Reuters

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