South Africa may be entering a fifth Covid wave sooner than expected, according to health officials and scientists, following a continuous increase in infections over the past 14 days that appears to be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.
The country with the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent only recently completed a fourth wave, and a fifth wave is expected to begin in May or June, early in the southern hemisphere winter.
Although hospitalizations were increasing, Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a press conference that there had been no significant shift in admissions to intensive care units or deaths.
Other than alterations to the prevalent circulating form, Omicron, he said health officials had not been notified of any new variants at this time.
At the same briefing, infectious disease expert Richard Lessells said that waning immunity from past waves could be contributing to the earlier-than-expected comeback in cases.
According to him, the growing number of infections ascribed to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 demonstrated they had a growth advantage over other Omicron sub-variants like BA.2.
However, according to Waasila Jassat of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, there was no evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 were producing considerably more severe disease.
During the epidemic, South Africa recorded over 3.7 million Covid cases and over 100,000 fatalities. On Thursday, the WHO’s Africa branch identified an increase in infections in South Africa as the primary cause of an increase across the African continent.
Nicholas Crisp, a senior health official, also stated on Friday that the government had enough vaccine doses and had no plans to obtain more. He also stated that the government will not purchase Pfizer’s (PFE.N) Covid therapy tablet Paxlovid for public-sector patients, owing to its high cost.