South Africa’s latest COVID surge blamed on omicron mutant

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa is seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases due to another version of the coronavirus, health experts say.

Cases had been declining in the country since February. But a new subvariant of omicron that scientists call BA.4 started increasing cases last week and they have been increasing rapidly since, said Salim Abdool Karim, who previously advised the government on its COVID-19 response. 19.

So far there has been only a slight increase in hospitalizations and no increase in deaths, said Abdool Karim, a public health expert at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa is recording just over 6,000 COVID-19 cases a day, up from a few hundred just a few weeks ago. The proportion of positive tests rose from 4% in mid-April to 19% on Thursday, according to official figures. Wastewater monitoring has also shown an increase in the spread of the coronavirus.

The new mutant appears to be rapidly dominating the original omicron and other versions of the virus, but Abdool Karim said “it’s too early to tell if BA.4 will cause a full-fledged surge.”

Still, the new version is notable because the omicron variant first appeared in November in South Africa and Botswana before making its way around the world.

There is a worrying trend, said Helen Rees, executive director of the Institute for Reproductive Health and HIV at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg: children are the first to end up in hospitals, just like during the first wave of omicron.

Experts say BA.4 appears to be more transmissible than both the original omicron variant and a relative of omicron known as BA.2. Scientists are still studying the new mutant, but BA.4 does not appear to cause more severe disease than other versions of the virus, the WHO said in a recent report.

In South Africa, gatherings for the recent Easter, Ramadan and Passover holidays, as well as massive flooding in the coastal city of Durban, may have contributed to the current outbreak, Abdool Karim said.

The BA.4 has appeared in other countries, but it’s unclear whether it “will become a globally dominant variant”, he said.

So far, it has not made inroads in the United States, where BA.2 remains the dominant strain and its descendant, called BA.2.12.1, is gaining traction. This descendant is thought to be spreading faster than previous versions of the virus and has caused around 29% of COVID cases in the United States over the past week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Can BA.4 outperform BA.2.12.1? Dr Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert from Johns Hopkins University, said the two variants spread in different populations and he is not aware of any data “that would support a robust direct comparison”.

Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has taken the lion’s share of COVID-19 in Africa. Although the country’s 60 million people represent less than 5% of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion, South Africa has had more than a quarter of the 11.4 million cases reported on the continent and almost half of the 252,000 deaths in Africa. Experts say this may be because it has a more developed public health system and keeps better records of hospitalizations and deaths than other African countries.

More than 44% of South African adults are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to government statistics.

Benido Impouma, a WHO Africa official, said the latest wave “shows that people need to remain vigilant and continue to adhere to public safety measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. “.


Ungar reported from Louisville, Kentucky. AP journalist Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda contributed.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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