South Africa has recorded a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, the highest rate in three months, raising concerns about a possible larger surge in the disease.
South Africa's National Health Department reported 4,406 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period ending Thursday. The number represents a considerable jump from the 2,846 cases reported the day before, and the previous seven-day average of 1,549.
Adrian Puren, executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa, confirmed omicron as the dominant COVID-19 variant in the country and said no new variant of concern has been reported.
He said South Africa is not experiencing a new wave of COVID-19, noting that hospitalizations remain low.
"And as you know, hospitalizations, in other words severe cases, dramatic cases that end up in hospital, either in high care or ICU, I think will be the more appropriate proxy if you like, or indicator, that we have actually reached the fifth resurgence," Puren said.
When asked how the pandemic is affecting South Africa compared with other countries, he noted that omicron caused high caseloads in Britain and the United States.
"We're obviously experiencing differences" compared with those countries, "but that's not to say that our next resurgence won't resemble that," Puren said. "And I think that's the concern — that we need to really be prepared."
He said even though South Africa plans to do away next month with the National State of Disaster restrictions adopted in the wake of COVID-19, other measures will be put in place. Those have been subject to public comment.
"So I think we'll probably see a mixture of the things we had in place. So, for example, getting ventilation right. You know, I don't think people are focused a lot on that. But I think that's an area, especially for indoor events, offices, restaurants and so forth, that's absolutely critical," Puren said.
The main opposition party's shadow minister for health, Michelle Clarke, said she would be asking parliament's Health Committee to analyze the rise in numbers when it meets Friday.
"It's expected during this time to start seeing the resurgence because you're moving into the colder winter months. People are huddling more," she said. "So you would see a spread of COVID happening because the environment changes. But if you look at the data that's been produced within the clusters like, for example, old-age homes, schools, et cetera, it's definitely not showing that resurgence in those clusters as yet."
She added that while the party is happy for the sake of the economy that the National State of Disaster restrictions are ending, there had already been 170,000 objections to the new proposed restrictions. Those include unhappiness over the continued 50 percent capacity in venues like restaurants.