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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Experts predict new Covid wave as vaccination numbers dwindle

The department of health expressed concern over the spike of infections and concedes the number of vaccinations was far below its target.

Amid the slowing down of government’s vaccination public campaign, with many inoculation stations having been closed, experts have predicted a new Covid wave that could hit SA next month.

SA has recorded a sharp increase in Covid cases – the highest in three months – with 2 846 new cases and 16 deaths this week, bringing the number of fatalities to more than 100 000.

The department of health on Thursday expressed concern over the spike, conceding the number of people vaccinated was far below its target.

Department spokesperson Foster Mohale described government’s vaccination drive as “not going according to our plans”.

“The vaccination uptake is low, compared to last year this time.

“But we continue to explore various vaccine demand creation strategies, working with other stakeholders, including the sporting fraternity.

“We would like to remind people – especially those who are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated – that we are not yet out the woods. They should see the numbers as a warning and protect themselves and their loved ones with vaccines,” said Mohale.

The increase in the number of people testing positive was “probably driven by sub-variants of omicron, with the [National Institute for Communicable Diseases] and other virology experts closely monitoring the situation”.

Ruling out the possibility of the government procuring more drugs, should those stored expire, Mohale said: “We still have sufficient stock.”

Leading epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes warned that a new wave “will soon put an appearance in”.

“When and how serious it will strike, are difficult to predict, because that will depend on the nature of the new variant that drives the wave – currently unknown.

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“Many virologists have predicted a new wave sometime next month. So it is not far off.

“The vaccination status of the population is disappointingly low,” Barnes said.

“Having had Covid from a different variant may not provide protection against a new variant.

“Without large numbers fully vaccinated, the population remains vulnerable.

“This is especially true if this rate consistently tests below 10% over a period of time. If the rate rises to above 20%, then there is reason for concern,” Barnes said.

“Large numbers of vaccination stations have closed and the publicity drive to get people to vaccinate or to receive booster shots, have all but dried up.”

Barnes said the positivity rate was based on the percentage of positive tests out of all persons who have tested for Covid over a certain period – most often over the past 24 hours, but sometimes an average over a week or even longer.

“Another complication regarding positivity rates is the substantial differences that can arise from why people are getting tested.

Those reasons are closely related to control measures, which are in place at any given time.

“A significant number can get tested so that they can travel or attend public gatherings. Few of those persons test positive and that brings the positivity rate down during that time.

“Another significant group of contributors consist of those admitted to health services, such as hospitals, for reasons other than suspected Covid. They are all tested and some test positive even though they do not have symptoms.

“As soon as fewer persons are admitted to hospitals because the services are under pressure, those test numbers also change.

“These examples are just an illustration that prediction based on the test positivity rate, is a risky exercise.

“Another positivity rate that should also be taken into account is the numbers of positive samples containing viruses that are taken from the sewage inflow in towns and cities. This is an indication that the virus is circulating in that urban area,” Barnes said.

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