Even as the number of new COVID-19 cases has gradually started to fall in South Africa, a key health official on Thursday told CNBC-TV18 that the Omicron wave may not be the last one.
“It might not be the last wave. We may see subsequent waves, but I experienced here, if we can get through this wave with limited restrictions, with hospitalisations and deaths been lower, then it really is moving towards getting back to normal and being able to live with COVID,” Dr Michelle Groome, Head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
She, however, said the last two days have shown cases reaching 20,000 again in South Africa again. Her remark comes just a say after scientists said COVID-19 cases appear to have peaked in South Africa's Gauteng province, one of the first places in the world where the Omicron variant surfaced, and the impact of surging infections has been less severe than previous waves.
According to Dr Groome it is hard to whether the cases are milder due to the virus or the underlying immunity. At least 40 percent of adults in the country have been fully vaccinated, whereas only 25 percent of the younger population is vaccinated, she said.
“We were a little bit hesitant in the beginning because we had a very rapid rise in cases and obviously the severe outcomes take a week or two or longer to appear. Definitely looking at the data, this seems to be milder. Whether it is milder due to the virus itself or milder because of underlying immunity – it is difficult to tease out,” Dr Groome said.
South Africa, where the Omicron varaint of coronavirus was first discovered, has not imposed as many restrictions during this wave of pandemic as it did during the initial ones. During the first wave, restrictions were at level 5 and at level 1 for the fourth wave, Dr Groome said.
Though there are reinfections and breakthrough infections in the fourth wave, according to the top epidemiologist at NICD, the level of hospitalisations was not the same as during the first wave. Among those hospitalised, fewer people are needing ICU, ventilation and the duration of the stay is shorter, she said.
The country has not yet introduced boosters and people will be eligible for boosters by the end of December, she said. Continued boosting from vaccination against the viral disease will make a difference, she added.
Reflecting on the uncertainty of the virus, Dr. Groome said it is difficult to predict anything related to COVID-19. “In South Africa, we are really trying to progress the narrative of this becoming an endemic disease and trying to move on with our lives, with COVID we are unlikely we are not going to get rid of it,” she said.