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Monday, 16 May 2022 20:19

SA records 2 952 new COVID-19 cases as fifth wave may already be peaking.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), reports 2 952 new COVID-19 cases that have been identified in South Africa, which brings the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 3 894 745.

The majority of new cases today are from Gauteng (47%) followed by KwaZulu-Natal (18%). Western Cape accounted for 14%; Free State accounted for 7%; Eastern Cape and North West  each accounted for 4% respectively; Northern Cape accounted for 3%; Mpumalanga accounted for 2%, and Limpopo accounted for 1% of today's cases. 

This increase represents an 16.8% positivity rate.

The proportion of positive new cases/total new tested today is (16.8%), and is lower than yesterday (20.3%). The 7-day average is (23.7%) today, and is lower than yesterday (24.0%). The 7-day moving average daily number of cases has decreased.

Due to the ongoing audit exercise by the National Department of Health (NDoH), there may be a backlog of COVID-19 mortality cases reported. Today, the NDoH reports 16 deaths, and of these, 8 occurred in the past 24 – 48 hours. This brings the total fatalities to 100,771 to date.

Senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Ridhwaan Suliman, says the country entered into the latest wave some three weeks ago, and may already be seeing new infections slow down.

Suliman said that we are well into the fifth wave in South Africa, with tracked data points indicating that it started in April.

Based on previous waves, we know that we're entering a new wave of infections when the number of new cases per 100,000 people exceeds five per day, and when the test positivity rate breached the 10% level, he said.

"We reached those levels at least three weeks ago. In fact, over the past week, we've seen a possible slowing down of infections, so we may potentially already be heading to the peak of this wave."

Suliman said that South Africa is currently averaging just over 7,500 new cases per day. This number is still increasing, but the rate of increase is slowing.

As with previous waves, the latest infections are being driven in the most populous provinces – Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. However, infections have also increased in the Western Cape, while the remaining provinces will likely also see their numbers rise.

The rise in infections may partly be due to increased gatherings over the April religious period and people, more generally, gathering more often, but it is also because of mutations in the virus itself, making it more infectious, the researcher said.

However, the good news is that people have built up immunity against the virus – either through acquired immunity via vaccine or through previous infection – and the number of infections is becoming increasingly decoupled from severe hospitalisations and death.

"Decoupling between infections and death has continued," Suliman said. "However, these are lagging indicators, so they may still increase. Despite this, South Africa has seen 34 new deaths per day across the last week. One death is one death too many, but this is still significantly lower than at least the first three waves."

Infections are also tracking much lower than previous waves. They are at about 32% of the peak of the previous Omicron-driven surge, Suliman said, noting that the previous wave was already significantly lower than the first three waves.

"We're seeing a high number of infections, especially in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal – but like with the Omicron BA.1, less severe outcomes – lower hospitalisation rates and lower deaths," he said.

There have been 2,600 new hospital admissions over the last week – an increase of 20% versus the previous week – but still, these are far lower than what we saw in previous waves, and are also about a third of the Omicron BA.1 wave, he said.