South Africa has seen ‘worrying signs’ of a daily spike in Covid-19 infections over the past week, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said, as he expressed hope that an increase in the number of cases will not be disruptive enough to hijack the country’s immunization program.
During the parliamentary health portfolio committee update on Friday, Phaahla said the government would first monitor the outbreak more closely before taking action to deal with it.
“Over the past few days, we have seen worrying signs of an increase in the level of Covid-19 infections. We hope it doesn’t go any higher. We are monitoring the situation and will report to the committee and the public once we see the trend. We have to give him a bit more time to see how he will behave,” he said.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported more than 4,000 daily new infections for the two consecutive days, double the number of cases reported the previous day.
There were also 12 Covid-related deaths, bringing the total number of people who have succumbed to the pandemic to 100,298 in the country.
The new positivity rate of 15.8% is a three-month high for South Africa, which earlier this month lifted the state of disaster in place for more than two years since the start of the pandemic.
Onerous restrictions on public gatherings and the wearing of masks have been eased or removed entirely in some cases, raising concerns about widespread citizen complacency.
But health authorities said there was no cause for alarm yet, with scientists predicting the fifth wave is set to start now at the start of the winter season.
“It may be a minor push. The fifth wave will come from a different variant and will come later. But there may be enough virulence or aggressiveness in this variant and enough transmissibility to pass it between us from one to another to cause more infections,” said the deputy director general of the Department of Health, Nicholas Crisp, on the national public broadcaster SABC. .
Crisp said that while the number was still low, there were again people in hospital, especially young people and children, in addition to mostly unvaccinated people.
“We have repeatedly warned that just thinking you might have broad virus immunity because there is broad virus immunity in the community is insufficient. We don’t know how long these antibodies last and we don’t know how protective they are. What we do know is that repeated exposure to vaccines through vaccination programs helps to achieve better remembered immunity,” he said.
Crisp encouraged people to get vaccinated, including a reminder for those who received their first doses and not to wait for the current spike to become a possible surge.
Scientists have also expressed concern that with many cases of the virus going undiagnosed, the latest rate of positivity could be a sign of how quickly Covid-19 infections are suddenly spreading again.
But the government has said its vaccination programs and the fact that up to 80% of South Africans have already had Covid-19 will mitigate the impact of any new wave.
“We hope that even if there is an increase as winter approaches, it will not be disruptive enough to distract us from our program,” Phaahla said in presenting the department’s budget for the new fiscal year.
Phaahla explained how the budget would be used primarily over the next two years to contain the virus, including extended vaccination deployments.
“We hope there will be more stability as the pandemic is better contained. There is hope in the experience of the last quarter of the last financial year, with the advent of the Omicron variant,” he said.