South Africa enters 4th COVID-19 wave driven by omicron variant

South African scientists have detected a new COVID-19 variant in small numbers. /VCG

South Africa is being hit by the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the new omicron variant, health officials said on Friday.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a news briefing that “It has emerged that hospitalization cases have increased for children under five years in the fourth wave.”

According to Phaahla, the new spike in infections over the last seven days has registered its presence in all the country’s nine provinces – with high positivity rates, except for the Free State and Northern Cape provinces which are still showing low positivity rates.

“Hospital admissions are mainly dominated by those who are not vaccinated and young people below the age of 40,” the minister said.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases announced Friday it has detected 16,055 new cases bringing the total number of confirmed cases to more than 3 million.

This increase represents a 24.3 percent positivity rate.

It also reported a further 25 COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 89,944 to date.

The majority of new cases are from Gauteng province which accounts for 72 percent of all infections followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces each accounting for six percent and North West five percent.

Last week, South African scientists announced they had discovered a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations compared to previous variants and reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO), which named it omicron.

Days later, a number of countries imposed travel bans on South Africa and other southern African countries, including Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

South Africa has expressed outrage over the travel restrictions with President Cyril Ramaphosa calling on countries to lift the ban saying: “COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and overcoming it requires that we (world) collaborate and work together as a collective.”