Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, along with a panel of scientists, on Monday unpacked South Africa’s state of readiness to the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.
Travel restrictions have been imposed on Southern Africa by Qatar, the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Australia, the Netherlands and others.
SA ready for fourth wave
New variant mutations
While some Omicron mutations overlap with the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants, other mutations are not present in earlier variants of concern (VoC).
Renowned epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim said mutations in viruses were nothing new, and scientists know that mutations assist the virus in becoming more infectious.
That said, Karim says South Africa’s current diagnostics are effective. He said no red flags have been noted, and the situation is being monitored.
Surge in Covid-19 infections
According to Karim, the seven-day moving increase of new cases and hospitalisations are on the increase.
One concern, though, is the “likely increase of re-infection rates” in those with past Covid-19 infections. Karim said we could reach 10,000 daily cases by the end of the week.
However, he said South Africa had been preparing for the fourth wave since September. Karim personally outlined what he anticipated the trajectory of the pandemic would be.
If the Omicron variant is confirmed to have higher transmissibility, the spike in cases could put additional strain on hospitals in the province, even if Omicron isn’t clinically worse.
Gauteng ready for fourth wave
The health department’s Dr Freddy Kgongwana said Gauteng – the epicentre of the virus – was ready for the increase in new Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations.
According to Kgongwana, Gauteng had been preparing since the end of the third wave. The province has adequate beds and oxygen supply to deal with a surge in infections.
There are 4,407 designated Covid-19 beds in Gauteng, he said, of which 1,078 beds are occupied, and a total of 3,329 beds are currently vacant.
Despite re-infections and breakthrough infections being likely, vaccinated people are still less likely to exhibit severe Covid-19 symptoms.