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Dramatic Rise in South Africa’s COVID-19 Cases Prompts Fear of Fifth Wave

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A surge of COVID-19 infections in South Africa has led some experts to declare that the country has entered its fifth wave of the pandemic as May began.

The country is experiencing its highest rate of new cases in three months, driven by the emergence of omicron subvariants. Most new cases were reported in the Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces.

“The fifth wave has arrived. Please look after yourselves!” warned theCentre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in a Twitter post on April 26. The center is headed by virologist Tulio de Oliveira, who became famous for spotting the beta and omicron variants.
The next day, South Africa recorded 6.3 new cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 16.9%, the highest figures in three months.
“Based on previous waves, these are thresholds indicating a continued increase,” Ridhwaan Suliman, a researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a government research institute, said on Twitter.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa office said the number of new cases in South Africa, alone, reversed the downward trend in cases and deaths that Africa experienced over the previous couple of months.
“This uptick is largely associated with the increase in the number of cases reported from South Africa as the country enters its winter season, when respiratory diseases become more prevalent,” said Dr. Benido Impouma, WHO Africa director of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases Cluster during an April 28 press briefing.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in an April 29 press conference that hospital admissions, including the use of intensive care unit beds, were at stable levels, although there was a slight rise in deaths.
Michéle Clarke, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow deputy minister of Public Enterprises, told Voice of America that a rise of new cases was expected during the colder months.
“People are huddling more,” Clarke said. “So you would see a spread of COVID happening because the environment changes. But if you look at the data that’s been produced within the clusters like, for example, old-age homes, schools, et cetera, it’s definitely not showing that resurgence in those clusters as yet.”
Adrian Puren, executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa, said that although the nation is ending the National State of Disaster restrictions adopted in the wake of COVID-19, other measures will be put in place.
“So I think we’ll probably see a mixture of the things,” Puren told VOA. “So, for example, getting ventilation right. You know, I don’t think people are focused a lot on that. But I think that’s an area, especially for indoor events, offices, restaurants and so forth, that’s absolutely critical.”
The WHO stated that there seems to be little difference in severity in the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. The original omicron wave peaked in South Africa around January.

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