SA Covid-19 update: Current resurgence coming to an end, trends suggest

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  • Data over the past two weeks show a sustained reduction in Covid-19 cases nationwide. 
  • Hospital admission data also show a decline.
  • While there have been deaths during this resurgence, the figures are much lower compared to the first three waves.

South Africa’s latest Covid-19 resurgence is coming to an end, with cases and hospitalisations showing a downward trend in the past two weeks, Professor Cheryl Cohen, head of the centre for respiratory diseases and meningitis at the NICD said on Wednesday.

“We seem to have just passed the peak of this recent resurgence that we’ve been having in South Africa and as we’re moving into the winter season."

All provinces – except for the Northern Cape – show a reduction in case numbers, but this could be because data are lagging.

'A much lower peak'

Cohen also noted that case numbers are likely to be underrepresented, as there is fatigue among people presenting for testing, especially if they have mild symptoms. “So we know the total number of cases in our database are not reflecting all the cases in the population,” she said.

Despite this, all provinces have observed a lower hospital admission rate during this resurgence, driven by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants.

In the BA.1 Omicron resurgence in December 2021, experts saw a disconnect between cases and hospitalisations, with the latter being much lower. This is even more apparent in the recent resurgence. 

Said Cohen: “The hospitalisations came up to a much lower peak than we’ve seen in any of the previous waves, and this is largely as a result of people having previous infection and/or being vaccinated.”

Sub-variants still causing deaths

The BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants have been shown to escape immunity (that a person has from previous infection or vaccination, or both) against infection, but people with immunity are, to a large degree, protected against severe disease and death.

However, it does not mean that these sub-variants are completely benign, Cohen cautioned.

“There are people who are admitted to hospital and people who have died, but the magnitude is lower than what we have seen, certainly in the first three waves,” she said.

As has been the case with previous waves, older people as well as those with underlying illness are most affected by severe disease, and they need to ensure they are vaccinated and should take extra precaution to avoid infection, such as by avoiding large indoor gatherings and wearing a face mask, she added.

A 'positive sign'

While early indications suggest that this resurgence is coming to an end, Cohen said it’s hard to predict if this situation will continue.

“What I’ve learned over the last two years is you cannot know what Covid will do. In other words, there could be a new sub-variant or something could change that could cause the cases to increase again. 

“But barring such an event, which is very difficult to predict, I think it’s a positive sign and that we would expect that unless something like that happens, that ongoing cases and hospitalisations will continue to reduce,” she said.

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