South Africa sees jump in Covid cases – raising concerns of possible fifth wave

South Africa has reported a notable increase in Covid cases, raising concerns that the country could be seeing the start of the fifth wave of infections.

South Africa’s coronavirus test positivity rate climbed to the highest in more than three months this week, indicating that the number of undetected infections may be rising.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 4,406 new cases on Thursday evening (21 April), with 27,875 tests conducted in the previous 24 hours. This represents a 15.8% positivity rate.

With many cases of the virus going undiagnosed, the positivity rate is seen as an indication of how fast the disease is spreading. Countries from South Africa to India are reporting rising infections, while experts are cautioning against dropping the mandate for people to wear masks on US aeroplanes as the virus lingers.

“The public should exercise caution in interpreting these data as there may be changes in test patterns. An early warning indicator, wastewater detection surveillance, shows an increase in Gauteng,” said NICD executive director, prof Adrian Puren.

He added that there is currently no evidence that the Omicron variant of concern is being displaced as the dominant circulating variant.

The increase is also not entirely unexpected, with both government and the private sector forecasting a possible rise in infections at the end of April and the start of May.

In a statement at the end of March, president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet said South Africans should remain vigilant as Covid-19 has not yet been ‘defeated’, and that the country faces a possible fifth wave of Covid infections in the coming weeks.

“Vaccination remains our best defence against the virus, and reduces the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death.

“Although infections and deaths currently remain low, we face a possible fifth wave in the coming weeks. The only defence we have is the scientific evidence showing the power of vaccines to save lives. Our country has already administered over 33 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines.”

Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore has previously indicated a fifth Covid wave in South Africa is likely to be a lot more benign and less severe compared to previous waves, but that the group will still treat it with caution.

Gore said Covid variants appear to emerge in parallel to one another – so there is no reason why the next wave will be less severe than previous ones. However, he noted that the virus is expected to become more benign and endemic as time goes on. Based on these patterns, Gore said a wave could arrive in South Africa at the end of April and early May.

“While it may be more severe, we still think this is unlikely; but it is a risk and, therefore, I think we need to be careful not to take a hard view. The overriding position as a planner or business leader is to expect the best but plan for the worst and make sure you can survive some severity of a wave.”

With further reporting by Bloomberg.

Read: One of South Africa’s major cities is facing a water ‘day zero’ at the end of May, business chamber warns

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South Africa sees jump in Covid cases – raising concerns of possible fifth wave