There has been a "steep rise in infections" in South Africa since the Omicron variant was
first detected in the country, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Friday during a virtual briefing, adding there were indications the variant was highly transmissible.
There has been a steep rise in infections in the past seven days. We have moved from a total of around 2,565 new cases on Thursday last week, when this variant was announced, to the highs of 11,555 yesterday,” Phaahla said.
New cases had increased by more than 300% in the last seven days, he explained, while the case positivity rate had increased from 1-2% two weeks ago to 22%.
There were also indications that the variant "is indeed highly transmissible, including infections of people who have been vaccinated," Phaahla said. "But, of course, infections are causing mostly mild illness, especially for those who are vaccinated."
Hospital admissions are "mainly dominated by those who are not vaccinated and young people below the age of 40, most of whom are not vaccinated,” he said.
The Omicron variant has been spreading to older age groups as well, Dr. Michelle Groome, head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said at the same briefing.
"While many of these cluster infections started in our younger people, we are seeing a spread into the older age groups, as this wave progresses," she said.
"Early evidence shows that this variant is more transmissible and that there's a degree of immune escape," she added.
Over the past seven days, there was a new spike in the whole of Gauteng province, with numbers starting to rise in the Western Cape, Phaahla said.
He stressed that the best protection against serious illness from Covid-19 is vaccination, while calling out the "hypocrisy ... that some countries have slapped us with travel bans, which included also many of our neighbors in the SADC region.”