JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa has likely entered a new wave of COVID-19 sooner than expected as new infections and hospitalizations have increased rapidly over the past two weeks, the health minister said Friday. from the country.
The increase in new cases was dominated by the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the omicron variant which dominated the country’s first wave of the virus.
“Anyway you look at it, it suggests that we could actually be entering the fifth wave much sooner,” Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Friday during a televised press briefing.
He said officials would watch carefully over the next few days to determine if the increase would hold, which would confirm a new surge.
New infections in the country are now in the thousands a day, up from a few hundred a few weeks ago.
According to Phaahla, there was currently no information indicating the emergence of a new strain, which scientists believe could be behind the country’s fifth wave, expected during the country’s upcoming winter season. , from May to June.
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“We have always been informed that when a new wave arrives it will be driven by a new variant, but at this stage we have not been alerted to a definitive new variant, except for changes in the omicron,” Phaahla said.
Three South African provinces – Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape – currently account for 85% of new infections, with the positivity rate in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal above 20%, he said.
Hospitalizations due to new cases are increasing but are still relatively low, said Dr Waasila Jassat of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.
“We are starting to see a small increase in hospital admissions in the private and public sector,” Jassat said. “Since around April 17, we have seen a sharp increase in hospital admissions.”
South Africa has seen the highest number of infections in Africa since the pandemic began in 2020, accounting for more than a quarter of the continent’s 11.4 million cases.
More than 252,000 people in South Africa have died from the virus, but the figures are considered much higher when considering the number of excess deaths recorded since the pandemic compared to the same periods before the pandemic.
Just over 44% of South Africa’s adult population has been vaccinated.