Those who have had COVID-19 may be reinfected more easily with the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, currently spreading across the world.
According to preliminary analysis by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), scientists are noting a high rate of reinfections during the current resurgence compared to the previous waves.
“Now we’re seeing an increase for Omicron and that speaks to the fact that in our population with a high seroprevalence, where many people have had the previous infection. We believe that previous infection does not provide them protection from infection due to Omicron,” said Professor Anne von Gottberg.
Von Gottberg, who is a Clinical Microbiologist at the NICD’s Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis, was a panellist at a press conference on Omicron and the vaccine rollout in Africa.
While the world still knows very little about the “heavily mutated” variant, she said she hopes that it provides them with protection against severe disease, hospital admissions and death.
“People talk about increased transmissibility. I think in this case, the virus’ characteristics may be very similar or slightly less than Delta in being able to be contagious,” she explained.
“However, it’s the susceptibility of the population that is greater now. Because previous infections that used to protect against Delta and now with Omicron, it doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Vaccines, however, will still protect against severe disease, she said.
“We’ve seen this increase in protection using vaccines with the other variants. The vaccines have always held out to prevent severe disease and admission into hospitals and dying.”
She called on people to get the lifesaving jabs for them to have vaccine-induced protection. In addition, she urged citizens to use non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing masks and avoiding gatherings in unventilated spaces.
Rise in COVID-19 cases
“We were in an inter wave period between our last third wave, which was the Delta wave. Things were very quiet and the number of cases was very low. Now they are increasing at a rapid rate and the numbers are increasing very quickly.”
South Africa recorded more than 8 500 new cases on Wednesday, as the country enters the beginning stage of the fourth wave.
She believes that the country will hit the 10 000 mark in terms of new infections on Thursday, of which most will be recorded in Gauteng.
“However, in all of our provinces, we are seeing an increase in percentage testing positive of all SARS-CoV-2 tests being done,” she said.
The Professor has also predicted that infections will peak “exponentially” in all provinces throughout the country.
According to Von Gottberg, of the 249 sequences from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, 183 have been confirmed to be Omicron. This translates to about 75% of cases being the Omicron variant.
“It does look like there is a predominance of Omicron throughout the country.”
Control of COVID-19
World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Emergency Director for Africa, Dr Salam Gueye, said the new variant was the stark reminder that the continent needs to double down on curbing COVID-19, after more than 20 countries have reported the new variant.
According to Gueye, the detection of Omicron is believed to be behind the 54% surge in the COVID-19 infection in Africa, mostly in Southern Africa.
“We must see this window of opportunity act to certainly ramp up measure to track, detect and control the spread of the Omicron variant,” he said. – SAnews
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