The City of Tshwane is the global epicentre of the newly detected Omicron Covid-19 variant, according to the South African Medical Association (SAMA).
The association’s Dr Fareed Abdullah says the rapid resurgence in new Covid-19 cases reported in Gauteng province could be attributed to the new variant, which was first documented by local scientists in Tshwane.
He said last week the Tshwane district recorded almost 10,000 new Covid infections in just five days, compared to other parts of the country.
“The first documented cases of the omicron variant are from Tshwane and we have seen an exponential rise in the case numbers which are sort of linked at the same time as the omicron variant.
“I think it’s a common cause now that the new infections in Gauteng are being driven by the omicron variant and Tshwane has had the highest number for the last three weeks,” Abdullah said in an interview with eNCA at the weekend.
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Abdullah said SAMA referred to Tshwane as the global epicentre of the variant because the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests could easily pick up that the variant is different in one region of the viral genome – meaning that in Tshwane a majority of positive tests are detecting the Omicron variant.
“It’s easier to say that this is omicron. The same thing happened with the alpha variant, which we didn’t have much of here… it’s been rather easy to pick up that it is omicron with just the normal PCR test and looking at the lab data behind the results,” he said.
While scientists were still gathering data on the impact of the omicron variant on vaccines, severe disease and deaths, Abdullah said it was clear that the variant is highly transmissible.
“There are enough signs now to show that this is highly transmissible. The best sign is that there have been a few comparisons showing the rapidly with which this variant has spread compared to the previous waves, which were previous variants also.”
Abdullah raised concerns that the variant was also behind the upsurge in hospital admissions Tshwane.
However, he said the good news was that most of the patients admitted for Covid were not struggling to breathe and did not require ventilators.
“We are seeing 10 to 20 admissions a day at Steve Biko Academic Hospital. I can tell you that the bed occupancy numbers for Covid at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital has grown substantially over the last couple of weeks, at Jubilee District Hospital, Kalafong Hospital and all of the hospitals in Tshwane in the public sector.
“In addition to that, all of the private hospitals are seeing an upsurge and it’s a big increase in hospital cases. And the same has been reported from Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital and Tembisa Hospital,” he said.
As of Sunday, 11,125 new Covid-19 cases and one related death were recorded in South Africa, which brought the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 3,031,694. This increase represented a 23.8% positivity rate.
The majority of new cases were from Gauteng (71%), followed by the Western Cape (7%). KwaZulu-Natalaccounted for 6%, North West accounted for 4%, Mpumalanga and Limpopo accounted for 3%, and FreeState and Eastern Cape each accounted for 2% while the Northern Cape accounted for less than 1%.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has called a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), which is expected to meet when he returns from his West African tour on Wednesday.
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