Covid fifth wave has peaked in Gauteng: expert

 ·19 May 2022

New Covid-19 infections in South Africa’s most populous province have slowed, with data on test positivity and hospitalisations showing that the fifth wave that hit the province over the last three weeks has peaked.

This is according to data and analysis published by a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Ridhwaan Suliman, who said that national data also points to the latest wave of infections peaking. The only metric still showing an upward trend is Covid-related deaths – an indicator that typically lags.

The fifth wave is being driven by two lineages of the Omicron BA.1 Covid-19 variant, designated BA.4 and BA.5.

Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 were first detected in February 2022. Since its first emergence, the lineages have increased from <1% of all cases to in excess of 50%.

They are currently still classified as the Omicron variant, meaning that they are not a new variant; rather, they are Omicron viruses with a new combination of mutations. Both lineages have been detected in countries outside South Africa.

The latest infection data published by the Department of Health shows that South Africa recorded 8,179 new infections on Wednesday, taking the national total to 3.9 million cases since the Covid pandemic first began.

It recorded 55 new deaths. With total recoveries at 3.72 million, the number of active cases in the country sits at 80,191, and a test positivity rate of 22.8%.

While Gauteng recorded the most new cases – at 3,119 infections – it is no longer the province at the epicentre of the fifth wave. KwaZulu Natal is the province sitting with the most active cases, at 34,187.

Peaked – but not over

Suliman said the good news for Gauteng is that the data shows that cases have peaked, the test positivity rate has peaked, hospitalisations have started levelling off and deaths remain low.

“Cases during this BA.4/BA.5 wave peaked at 30.1% of the Omicron BA.1 peak,” he said, noting that testing has also been lower, which needs to be factored in.

The rolling seven-day average for new infections is only 2,617 (16.6 per 100,000 people), and down 17% week-on-week. The positivity rate for the week ending 14 May is still well above the threshold at 24.1%, but this is also declining, he said.

Hospitalisations in the province are around a third of what was seen during the fourth wave, and have begun to off, he said. Deaths, meanwhile, are still rising – but this is expected as deaths lag infection and hospitalisation data by some margin.

“Overall, trends in this BA.4 and BA.5 driven fifth wave of Covid infections in Gauteng continue as expected: A high number of infections – underestimated – but significantly fewer hospitalisations and deaths due to high level of population immunity,” Suliman said.

Suliman’s position is in line with data published by the National Institution of Communicable Diseases (NICD), which is also showing a decline in infections across several other provinces.

Read: South Africa’s fifth Covid wave may already be peaking: expert

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