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Saturday, December 10, 2022

South Africa’s latest COVID surge blames Omicron mutants

South Africa's latest COVID surge blames Omicron mutants

JOHANNESBURG ( Associated Press) – South Africa is seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases driven by another version of the coronavirus, health experts say.

Cases were declining in the country since February. But a new omicron subvariant that scientists call BA.4, cases began to escalate and they have risen sharply last week, said Salim Abdul Karim, who previously advised the government on its COVID-19 response.

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

South Africa is reporting just over 6,000 COVID-19 cases a day, up from a few hundred just a few weeks ago. According to official figures, the proportion of positive tests increased from 4% in mid-April to 19% on Thursday. Wastewater monitoring has also seen a rise in coronavirus spread.

The new mutant appears to be quickly gaining dominance over the original Omicron and other versions of the virus, but Abdul Karim said, “It’s too early to tell whether BA.4 is going to wave completely.”

Nevertheless, the new version is notable because the Omicron variant first emerged in November in South Africa and Botswana before becoming widespread around the world.

There is a related 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 wind up in hospitals, as during the original omicron boom.

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

Abdul Karim said that in South Africa, recent gatherings for the Easter, Ramadan and Passover holidays, as well as heavy flooding in the coastal city of Durban, may have contributed to the current surge.

BA.4 has appeared in other countries, but it is unclear whether it is “going to be a globally dominant version of it,” he said.

As of now, it has not made its way into the US, where BA.2 remains the dominant strain and its descendant called BA.2.12.1 is advancing. This lineage is believed to spread faster than previous versions of the virus and caused about 29% of US COVID cases in the latest week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.,

Can BA.4 beat BA.2.12.1? Johns Hopkins University infectious disease specialist Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray said the two types are circulating in different populations, and he is not aware of any data “that would support a strong direct comparison.”

Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has had the lion’s share of COVID-19 in Africa. Although the country’s 60 million people make up less than 5% of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion, South Africa accounts for more than a quarter of the continent’s 11.4 million reported cases and nearly half of Africa’s 252,000 deaths. Experts say this may be because its public health system is more developed and has a better record of hospitalizations and deaths than other African countries.

According to government figures, more than 44% of adult South Africans are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Benido Impouma, a WHO official in Africa, said the latest surge “shows that people should remain vigilant and continue to follow public safety measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.”

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Ungar reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Associated Press journalist Rodney Muhumuja in Kampala, Uganda, contributed.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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