Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

South African Study Shows COVID-19 Subvariants More Severe in Children


South African children younger than 9 years old were hospitalized at a higher rate than elderly patients during the country’s fifth wave of COVID-19, which was driven by the highly infectious omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

From April 13 to May 27, 17% of all coronavirus-related hospital admissions were children in that age group, exceeding for the first time the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients over 80, according to Discovery Health, the country’s largest health insurer. The number of child hospital admissions was similar to elderly patients during the fourth wave.

“Discovery data show very low rates of admission to hospital for severe COVID-19 during the country’s first, second and third waves,” Ryan Noach, Discovery Health’s chief executive officer, said in a statement to Bloomberg. “This picture has changed in recent months.”

Infections from B.A.4 and B.A.5 surged despite research suggesting that 98% of South African adults had some antibodies to protect them from infection, due to preventive treatment or being previously infected, according a study by the South African National Blood Service.

South African children likely did not build up immunity due to lack of exposure to the disease, among other considerations.

Infection Rates Drop

The country’s first COVID-19 wave was driven by the original coronavirus strain, while the next two were driven by the beta and delta variants. The omicron variant fueled the fourth wave. The fifth wave, fueled by B.A.4 and B.A.5, receded by early June, South African news website BusinessTech reported.

South Africa’s government considered lifting its remaining COVID-19 measures due to a sharp decrease in hospitalizations and deaths, The East African newspaper reported on June 21.

South African Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla recommended that wearing masks should no longer be required, restrictions on public gatherings should be lifted, and COVID-19 tests were no longer necessary.

“We have been monitoring the epidemic, working with the NICD [National Institute for Communicable Diseases], and the current epidemiological analysis points towards lower infection rates and that the country has exited the recent spike or [fifth] wave which the current limited regulations were promulgated to mitigate,” Phaahla said in the report.

The Cabinet was expected to vote on Phaala’s recommendations after provincial authorities review them. The country ended its two-year state of emergency in early April and lifted most restrictions at the start of May.

Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in South Africa, cautioned that more variants will likely emerge that can cause outbreaks even among people with COVID-19 antibodies.

“The virus will continue to evolve so that it can continue to spread in the population,” Lessells told The New York Times newspaper. “It doesn’t end. This virus is with us for the rest of time.”

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