Recent reports have declared that South Africa may be entering a fifth COVID-19 wave earlier than expected after a consistent rise in infections over the past 14 days. It seems that the rise has been prompted by Omicron sub-variants, according to health officials and scientists.

Having only just exited the fourth wave, South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus cases and deaths on the entire African continent. The BA.4 and BA.5 Omnicron sub-variants show no sign of causing severe disease according to Waasila Jassat from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

The health minister, Joe Phaahla, told a briefing that although hospitalisations were increasing there was no dramatic changes in admissions to intensive care units or deaths so far.

He also explained that health authorities in the country had not yet been alerted to any new variant, other than changes to Omicron, the dominant variant.

Infectious disease specialist Richard Lessells told the same briefing that waning immunity from previous waves could be a key contributing factor. This accounts for the earlier-than-expected sharp increase in cases.

On Thursday, the WHO’s Africa office highlighted that the rise in South Africa’s infections is likely the main driver of an increase on the African continent.

Senior health official Nicholas Crisp also stated that as a country, South Africa had enough vaccine doses and was not planning to procure more. He also added the government will not be willing to buy Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid for public sector patients, partly because of how expensive it is. 

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