Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are being hit hard by escalating COVID infections at the moment, while another five provinces are also seeing a rise in positive tests – a jump to 22% over the weekend, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). The increases are mainly due to infections from two sublineages in the Omicron family.
South African scientists said the sublineages were “very different” from the original Omicron variant but so far their mutations are thought to be targeted at escaping the bodyʼs immune response – with no signs yet of an increase in the severity of symptoms.
Dr Richard Lessells from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa said the BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages have been found in seven provinces. They have similar spike proteins and are similar to those found on BA.2, he said.
Daily Maverick reports that a delay in processing samples from the Free State and Northern Cape could be the reason why the subvariants have not yet been identified in those regions.
Lessells said some of the mutations in the variants are targeted to evade the bodyʼs immune response by neutralising antibodies. He added, however, that the bodyʼs response to prevent severe disease was very different from the one to prevent infection.
“Vaccination remains the key protection,” he said.
Dr Waasila Jassat from the NICD said there are other infections around, like flu, that could cause similar symptoms, but they had seen a rapid increase in cases and a smaller increase in admissions. There had been no increase in hospital deaths from COVID-19 complications.
Although admissions have risen to about 60 per day nationally, this is still low compared with the third wave of infections, triggered by Delta, when admissions topped 1,000 a day. There was a small increase in patients needing oxygen and ventilation.
Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said there had been a continuous increase in cases over the past two weeks, with the country recording up to 6,000 new cases a day. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are the hardest hit by new cases at the moment, he said.
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