Early indications suggest Gauteng has reached Covid peak, says health minister

Health minister Joe Phaahla on Friday (17 December), provided an update on Covid-19 infections in South Africa.

He said that the fourth wave, driven by the Omicron virus has continued to spread rapidly across the country. Dr Phaahla said that the number of cases in the fourth wave, has exceeded the peaks of previous waves – that is the Covid-19 positive case rate per 100,000 persons.

The minister said that the current rate is 37 per 100,000 of the population, against 33 in the third peak, and 32 in the second wave peak. He added that the current positivity rate has also risen steeply across the country.

A total of 80,304 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours in South Africa, with 24,785 new cases, representing a 30.9% positivity rate. A further 36 Covid related deaths have been reported, bringing total fatalities to 90,262 to date, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Minister Phaahla said that eight provinces recorded a positivity rate above 30%, with Gauteng the only province to see a decline in positivity rate to 25%, from a high of 35%. He said that over the last seven days, the country has seen new cases increase by an average of 37%.

The minister pointed to a 70% increase in hospitalisation cases within the last seven days. In absolute numbers, this is off a low base, he stressed. Hee said that the weekly average hospital admissions are much lower than in previous waves.

In the current wave, only 1.7% of Covid cases are being hospitalized, an average of fewer than 350 cases daily over the past two weeks, versus an average of more than 800 in the previous wave, at an average of 19%. He added that the large majority of hospitalized cases in the current wave are ‘fairly mild’.

Minister Phaahla said that early indications suggest that Gauteng has reached its peak.

Vaccination for the country’s adult population has reached 44%, the minister said. “We believe that it is not that Omicron is less virulent but believe that the coverage of vaccination and natural immunity is adding to the protection, that is why we see mild illness.”

As the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) retains the lockdown restrictions at Adjusted Alert Level 1, Dr Phaahla called for responsible behaviour and stronger compliance with Covid-19 prevention and treatment protocols during the festive season.

“The NCCC has reflected on the current Covid-19 situation and deliberated on [a] number of recommendations tabled by the Department of Health as part of safety measures to prevent a possible surge in Covid-19 infections associated with social gatherings which can be ‘super spreader’ events carrying a huge risk of transmission of the virus,” said the department on Thursday.

Minister Phaahla added that the department will continue to closely monitor the situation throughout this period in terms of daily infection cases, hospitalisations, mortality and recovery rates, and make the necessary recommendations to the NCCC in the best interest of people’s lives and livelihoods.

He said that the NCCC would meet again next week to assess the available data and make recommendations


Read: What to do if you test positive for Covid-19 over the holidays

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Early indications suggest Gauteng has reached Covid peak, says health minister