South Africa’s daily coronavirus test positivity rate neared a record, rising above 30% on Saturday for the first time in almost five months as two sublineages of the omicron variant spread rapidly ahead of the nation’s winter season.

There were 8,524 new Covid-19 cases identified, representing a 31.1% positivity rate of those tested, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement on its website. That’s the highest rate since the 32.2% recorded on Dec. 15, when a record 26,976 cases were recorded. The surge means South Africa is close to its highest positivity rate yet. The record so far was 34.9% on Dec. 14. 

Nearing Record

South Africa's Covid-19 test positivity rate is close to an all-time high

Source: National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Media Hack

 

The positivity rate is taken as an indicator of how fast the disease is spreading through the community as many cases go undetected. 

Still, only five deaths were recorded in the last 48 hours and just over 2,600 people are in the hospital with the disease. At the peak of the wave in mid-2021 when the delta variant was rampant, hundreds of people were perishing daily and hospitalizations peaked at about 16,000.

 
 

South Africa, which together with Botswana identified the omicron variant in November, was the first country to experience a wave driven by the strain and the way it played out was seen as an indication for what could happen elsewhere. Last month South African scientists identified two omicron sublineages, BA.4 and BA.5, and laboratory experiments have since shown that those strains can reinfect those who have already had the original omicron strain. 

The current surge in infections and positivity shows that even though previous waves have been caused by the emergence of new variants the sublineages are now having the same effect, Tulio de Oliveira, who runs gene sequencing institutes in South Africa said on Twitter.

Source - Bloomberg

The World Health Organization‘s (WHO) director-general said Wednesday that two Omicron COVID-19 subvariants are behind a recent spike in cases in South Africa.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said that it is too soon to know if subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe symptoms, but they are “another sign the pandemic is not done with us.”

WHO began tracking BA.4 and BA.5 in mid-April. They are in addition to previously discovered subvariants BA.1 and BA.2, the latter of which is now dominant around the world. South Africa reported 2,650 COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, according to WHO, but more than 6,500 new cases on May 1, with its numbers trending upward.

Despite the new variants, Ghebreysus did report that COVID-19 cases continue to decline globally and weekly deaths are at the lowest point since March 2020, when the pandemic first began.

He said though that testing remains critical, with genetic sequencing the reason the two recent subvariants were identified in South Africa as other countries have stopped the practice.

“In many countries, we are essentially blind to how the virus is mutating,” he said.

“We don’t know what is coming next.”

Ghebreysus said the goal remains to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of countries’ populations around the world. While vaccine availability has improved significantly, he said demand is limited by a lack of political commitment, operational capacity problems, financial constraints and misinformation. He urged countries to address vaccine bottlenecks.

He also noted that while vaccine manufacturers are posting record profits, the WHO cannot accept prices that make the treatment available for the rich and not the poor, calling the disparity a “moral failing.”

Meanwhile, Ghebreysus said the health challenges in Ukraine are worsening by the day, especially in the country’s east, where the war has intensified.

WHO has so far identified 186 attacks on health care in Ukraine, he said, while the organization was able to receive “scores of civilians” from Mariupol on Tuesday as the city has faced a weeks-long siege from Russian forces.

Source - Global News

Scientists have warned of a sixth wave of Covid-19 and asked Kenyans not to drop their guard.

In its 15th advisory, the eminent committee of the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) says the next Covid-19 wave will begin at the end of April, reach its peak around May 17 and decline after June 2.

The panel says the wave will take about 40 days and is likely to be milder than the previous ones.

“The likely daily average infections will be 500 and the number of people projected to get the virus is 20,000, with total fatalities in the entire period being 349,” LREB Eminent Committee chairman Khama Rogo said.

Prof Rogo added in his statement that vaccination drives need to be ramped up, especially among elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.

“We should increase vaccination efforts, especially booster shots for adults, particularly the high-risk groups,” he said.

Some counties that barely had new Covid-19 cases have started registering them.

Dr Steven Ouko, who is in charge of the Covid-19 isolation unit in Kakamega county, told the Daily Nation that his team recorded five new cases in 48 hours.

“The cases coincide with the prediction made by the LREB committee. We had just one patient in our unit in the last two weeks but the number is growing. This also follows a recent training on active screening. I had taken my leave but have to go back to work,” he said yesterday.

Dr Ouko added that the patients in the isolation unit are elderly, and advised the government to review the relaxation of containment measures, especially wearing of masks.

“Masking prevented the spread of the virus and other respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis. People are no longer washing their hands as they used to. Even diarrhoea cases are on the increase,” he said.

The doctor added that vulnerable people must be protected against deadly diseases.

“Old people were affected by all the Covid-19 waves. The very young were hardest hit by the Omicron wave and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes are also at risk.”

Dr Ouko said despite the country being in a political season in which social distancing is largely disregarded, it should not lose people to the virus.

Dr Shem Otoi, the mathematician who engineered the Otoi-Narima model that predicted the sixth Covid-19 wave, said Kenyans are taking risks.

“We accurately predicted the five waves yet people are behaving like the war on the virus has already been won,” he said yesterday. 

The new wave is attributed to a number of factors such as ignoring public health protocols and guidelines, reopening of schools' political activities and the low vaccination rate.

“Whether the wave will be driven by Omicron sub-variants or recombinants is not known. We also can’t tell if it is a completely new variant. We only know it will occur. There should be continuous surveillance through sequencing,” he said. 

While the Ministry of Health says the country has fully vaccinated about 30 per cent of the population, it is far from achieving the 70 per cent global target by June.

In Shanghai, China and Scotland in the UK, media reports have indicated a surge in cases. A lockdown was imposed on Shanghai. 

Dr Ouko advised hospitals that had shut their isolation centres to reopen them so as not to be caught off guard when the new wave hits home. 

Source - The East African News

The State of Disaster could be lifted next week, according to Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but it’s unclear whether the new draft regulations will replace the previously released proposals or complement them.

he government wants to lift the State of Disaster by 5 April following the gazetting of new regulations aimed at guiding the country’s ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced in a press conference on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet has been under significant pressure from business groups, opposition parties and healthcare experts to lift the two-year State of Disaster, which has been criticised as a burden on the country’s economic recovery and unnecessary in ongoing efforts to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.

 

Ramaphosa last week announced his intention to end the State of Disaster around 16 April, after the one month available for public comments on proposed amendments to the National Health Act closed.

On Tuesday, Dlamini Zuma said new draft regulations would be released to manage the response to Covid-19 once the State of Disaster is lifted. They had not been released at the time of writing.

The minister said the public could submit comments on the new regulations for 48 hours, after which the comments would be analysed and, the government hopes, the State of Disaster could be lifted.

It’s unclear whether the new draft regulations will replace the previously released proposals or complement them. Dlamini Zuma’s spokesperson, Lungi Mtshali, did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s also unclear how the government plans to move forward with such a narrow window for public comments on the new regulations while a month was allotted for public comments on the proposals under the National Health Act.

The minister said the new regulations, which would be gazetted and released on Tuesday, made provision for the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces, limitations on gatherings, physical distancing requirements and rules for travellers coming to South Africa.

Ramaphosa outlined the same regulations during his speech last week. He emphasised that the end of the State of Disaster did not signal an end to the fight against Covid-19, suggesting some form of regulations would stay in place in the near future. Dlamini Zuma, however, said the regulations would only last 30 days after they were introduced.

“Though the pandemic is not yet over, it was the desire of government for the country, as much as it is possible, to return to normality, but in a manner that recognises the changing nature of the pandemic,” said Dlamini Zuma.

She defended the State of Disaster, which has been repeatedly extended. “If you look at how we have done through the two years and look at how other countries also have done and compare what happened here now and what happened during the Spanish flu, I think, yes, it was necessary because I think we would have experienced many more deaths if we hadn’t [imposed the State of Disaster].”

Cilliers Brink from the DA welcomed the government’s “climbdown” but remained cautious about future regulations. 

“We are deeply concerned that this is only a tactical concession, and that the government intends to hang on to lockdown powers by using national health regulations,” said Brink.

The DA had filed court papers to challenge the extension of the State of Disaster. The trade union Solidarity had also approached the courts and its case is due to be heard on 5 April, the same day Dlamini Zuma said she hopes the State of Disaster is lifted.

Other political parties were also critical. Speaking on the SABC, Cope’s Dennis Bloem said the minister’s press conference was unnecessary and a waste of time.

The IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa said Dlamini Zuma’s address was a “tautology” of Ramaphosa’s earlier address and that the proposed regulations mean “more or less the same, whether it is under a State of Disaster or not”.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa tweeted: “This is rubbish, it’s creating a permanent State of Disaster scenario. All they’ve done is transfer provisions in the disaster of management act into the Health Act!”

The new Covid-19 regulations published under the National Health Act have been criticised as an attempt by the government to maintain the wide powers it received under the State of Disaster. They allow authorities to impose curfews, mask mandates and limit the distribution and consumption of alcohol. They also introduce new self-isolation and quarantine regulations, which have been criticised as incoherent and illogical

Source - DM