Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, says COVID-19 infections during the fourth wave have exceeded the previous peaks reached in the previous resurgences.
According to the Minister, the fourth wave, driven by the Omicron variant, has continued to spread rapidly across South Africa and has already been detected in at least 76 countries globally.
“In our country, all nine provinces are essentially in the fourth wave, although the Northern Cape is technically just about to enter fully.”
While Gauteng remains the hardest-hit province, Phaahla said infections have risen rapidly in the coastal provinces and the rest of the country.
This, according to the Minister, has resulted in Gauteng accounting for 25% of new infections on Thursday, compared to between 70% and 80% of cases about 10 days ago.
Phaahla said the number of cases in the fourth wave has exceeded the peaks of the three waves, with a weekly average of new infections of more than 37 per 100 000 of the population.
This is compared to the peak of the third wave, which was about 33 per 100 000; the second wave 32 per 100 000 and the first wave 21 per 100 000.
“The positivity rate has also risen steeply across the country, with yesterday’s average of 31% positive,” the Minister said.
Meanwhile, Phaahla said eight provinces recorded a positivity rate of 30% and above, with only Gauteng below 30%, at 25%.
The latest data shows that in the last seven days, new cases have risen by 36.6%.
The Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and the Northern Cape have shown more than 100% increase in daily new cases compared to seven days earlier, which confirms a rapid increase nationwide.
As of Thursday, the country had 210 635 active cases, translating to a 10% increase in 24 hours.
“The good news is the recovery rate is at 91%,” the Minister said.
On the other hand, the country is now seeing a significant rise in hospital admissions.
“Over the last seven days, there has been a 70% rise in admissions, even though total admissions as of yesterday were still low at 7 614,” said Phaahla.
In comparison to the fourth wave, weekly average hospital admissions were significantly lower than the average weekly admissions in the third wave during the first two weeks of each wave.
“Although there is a rapid rise in hospitalisation, the majority are mild [cases],” said Phaahla.
Meanwhile, the Minister said Gauteng is on a downward trend in terms of infections and percentage of testing positive.
“Early indications suggest that the peak has been reached, but there is a rapid increase in the other provinces.”
He cautioned that the mildness of disease may not mean that the virus is less “virulent”, but due to the significant vaccine coverage of over 60s at 66% and over 50s at 61%, and the national adult coverage of 44%.
Severity of illness
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), there has been a decrease in patients who needed oxygen in the past few weeks.
“It’s been lower than it was in comparison with any of the previous waves,” said the NICD’s Dr Waasila Jassat.
In addition, she said fewer patients are relying on ventilation.
“In the last few weeks, a lower proportion of patients in both the public and private sectors have been admitted in critical care wards during their hospital stay.”
For the first time, Jassat also noted that there are more non-severe patients in hospital compared to the first three resurgences.
“The case fatality ratio increases in the peaks of each wave in both the public and the private sectors. In the last few weeks, it declined and has been lower than before.”
However, Jassat raised concerns about a very sharp rise in cases, which may lead to a rise in hospitalisations that may overwhelm the health system.
While children accounted for 35% of admissions in the early fourth wave, the doctor said that number has already started to decrease.
In addition, she said most admissions are among unvaccinated people.