New wave ‘may not be as deadly’

Following the announcement by Health Minister Joe Phaahla that the country appears to be heading towards the fifth wave of coronavirus infections earlier than expected, epidemiologists and virologists say nothing can be cast in stone as yet concerning the severity of the new wave.

They do, however, believe the fifth wave is unlikely to result in more deaths.

“Because viruses tend to mutate themselves, the fifth wave of Covid-19 remains anyone’s guess. But we are hopeful that we shall weather the storm as we did with the previous waves.

“I believe the country is also better prepared this time around. So, we expect a low mortality rate and a decrease in severe cases of illness that might lead to hospitalisation,” University of KwaZulu-Natal professor of infectious diseases Yunus Moosa told Sunday World.

He was, however, quick to warn against South Africans letting down their guard, saying it could complicate the war against the deadly virus.

More people have died in South Africa than in any other country on the continent since the deadly virus hit our shores in 2020. Scientists had earlier predicted that the fifth wave would begin late in May and June, but the latest indications are that the country could well be in the early stages of it.

The dramatic surge in new infections is believed to be driven by Omicron sub-variants known as BA.4 and BA.5.

Recent data also shows that there has been a sharp increase in daily infections in Gauteng, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal, which leads the pack with more than 20% of the positive cases.

Respected academic and professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand Shabir Madhi said the country should take solace in the fact that the fourth wave, driven by Omicron, had resulted in fewer deaths than previous variants.

“There is no need to be overly concerned, however, we should push for the ongoing rollout of vaccines to people in their 50s and above. Although the fifth wave is unlikely to cause a large number of hospital admissions and deaths, healthcare facilities should be prepared,” he said.

The new developments also coincide with a raging debate in which several health bodies have called for the vaccines to be administered to children between the ages of five and 11.

Public health expert Dr. Velile Ngidi said there was a greater need for communities to be kept abreast of the different waves of the virus.

“The coronavirus will be part of our lives for a long time and we must learn to coexist with the pandemic. The country should strengthen herd immunity and communities should not be left behind in the fight against coronavirus,” she said.

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