A curve of new COVID cases – driven by the Omicron variant – is “much steeper” than previous waves, the director of the Africa Health Research Institute has warned, as South Africa prepares its hospitals for more admissions.
Speaking to Sky News, Professor Willem Hanekom said: “The wave that we are in at the moment is much steeper than the curve was for previous waves.”
He said “reinfections seem to be more common during this wave so far,” which he said “suggests that the virus may resist some aspects of the immunity that we have to protect ourselves”.
Professor Hanekom explained that the profile of Omicron patients “seems to be slightly different,” in that younger people are becoming sick, especially those who have not been vaccinated.
But he said those who have been vaccinated “have been having a milder disease than one would anticipate”.
“So that is probably good news and a reason to go and get vaccinated, because it appears that the vaccine will still protect against severe disease and death,” he added.
South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions as the Omicron variant pushes the country into its fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
Daily infections surged last week to more than 16,000 on Friday, up from around 2,300 on Monday.
Mr Ramaphosa said Omicron appeared to account for the majority of new cases in most of the country’s nine provinces.
“South Africa now has sufficient supplies of vaccines… vaccination is essential for our economic recovery because as more people are vaccinated more areas of economic activity will be opened up,” he said in a weekly newsletter.
Professor Hanekom echoed Mr Ramaphosa’s remarks, saying “virtually all the virus that we have in South Africa is now Omicron.”
He added: “But it appears as if the disease in those that have been vaccinated is relatively mild.
“So the message I think that needs to be out there is that if you can get vaccinated, you should get vaccinated.
“This is the best way to protect yourself against severe disease. So if you have access, for example, to the booster dose, go and get that booster dose.”
Mr Ramaphosa also said South Africa’s government will soon convene the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic and consider whether further measures are needed to keep people safe.
“We are keeping a close eye on the rates of infection and hospitalisation,” he said.
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