Discovery modelling shows when peak of fourth Covid-19 wave will hit – as new infections surge

Financial services company Discovery has published new modelling data showing that South Africa is likely to see a peak in its fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in early 2022.

It comes as the country reported a surge in new infections of the virus on Tuesday (30 November) – 4,373 new cases over the past 24 hours.

Deaths have reached 89,843 (+21), while recoveries have climbed to 2,849,558, leaving the country with a balance of 28,651 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 25,619,891 (+171,124).

The proportion of positive new cases/total new tested is 10.2%, with a 7-day average of 8.5%, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said.

The majority of new cases are from Gauteng (72%), followed by Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, each accounting for 6%.

The NICD pointed to an increase of 119 hospital admissions in the past 24 hours, taking total admissions to 2,414  – reported by 665 facilities.

In a media briefing on Tuesday (30 November), Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore said that the recently discovered Omicron variant would likely drive the wave.

The World Health Organisation warned this week that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, could fuel surges with ‘severe consequences’ amid signs that it makes Covid-19 more transmissible. Scientists said the variant appears to spread more quickly, but existing vaccines are still likely to protect against severe illness.

Children under the age of two account for about 10% of total hospital admissions in the Omicron epicentre Tshwane, said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

More kids are being admitted than during the country’s early stages entering the current fourth wave of infections. However, a similar trend occurred during the third wave when Delta was dominant, said Waasila Jassat, a public health specialist at the institute.

“The very young children have an immature immune system, and they are also not vaccinated, so they are more at risk,” said Jassat, who was part of developing and managing South Africa’s national hospital surveillance system for Covid-19.

She said that part of the increased admissions rate might reflect extra precaution on the part of parents given the new concern about the mutation. A pediatric report due later this week should provide more information.

16,000 more deaths 

Discovery Health has run modelling around Covid-19 related deaths across various scenarios, although much will be dependent on how many people get vaccinated, Gore said.

“A medium scenario assumes about 35% of the population is vaccinated by the end of 2021, and that vaccination rates plateau from there. In this case, between June 2021 and June 2022  – taking the third and fourth waves into account – South Africa experiences a further 16,000 excess deaths because of the pandemic,” he said.

By comparison, Discovery’s modelling shows that in the total absence of Covid-19 vaccines, there would be a further 55,000 deaths over this time frame, showing the potentially significant toll of the pandemic without vaccination.

“There are indications that the looming fourth wave will be driven by the newly identified Omicron variant of concern.

“While there is limited data around this variant at present, we do know that it exhibits extensive mutations in the spike protein, alluding to its potentially increased transmissibility. Vaccination remains key to mitigating against severe illness and death in this regard,” he said.

Based on excess deaths data published by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Discovery Health estimates that there have been more than 242,000 deaths in South Africa due to Covid-19 since May 2020.

“Our modelling assumes that only 90% of the excess deaths published by the SAMRC are related to Covid-19. More than 14,000 Discovery Health administered scheme members have died, and we have experienced the devastating loss of life in our own organisation with 22 staff deaths,” he said.

Read: South Africa’s Aspen to make its own-brand Covid-19 vaccine

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Discovery modelling shows when peak of fourth Covid-19 wave will hit – as new infections surge