South Africa is seeing an increase in coronavirus reinfections in patients who contract the Omicron variant, Anne von Gottberg, a microbiologist with the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said at a news conference on Thursday.
“Previous infection used to protect against” [the] Delta [coronavirus variant] but now with Omicron, that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Gottberg told a WHO briefing on Africa.
“We tracked this reinfection for the Beta [variant] and the for the Delta wave, and we didn’t see an increase in reinfections beyond what we expect when the strength of infection changes, when the wave stops. However, we see an increase for Omicron,” explains Gottberg.
However, the data from South Africa shows that reinfections may be less serious, Gottberg added. “We believe, I think very much, that the reinfections in our data, and hopefully from South Africa, that disease will be less severe,” Gottberg said.
“And we’re trying to prove that in South Africa and keep a close eye on it. The same goes for those who have been vaccinated,” she added.
South Africa is embarking on its fourth coronavirus wave, Gottberg said, with cases in the country increasing at a “rapid pace”, particularly in Gauteng province, the country’s most populous.
About 8,000 new daily cases were detected in the country on Wednesday, Gottberg said, and scientists expect there will be cases rising to 10,000 per day. “We believe the number of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces across the country,” she said.
Only a limited number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country are being sequenced, Gottberg explained. Of the 249 cases sequenced in November, 183 were confirmed to be the Omicron variant, equivalent to 70-75% according to Gottberg.
“Looks like there’s a predominance of Omicron across the country. And Omicron has been identified through sequencing in at least five of our counties (that’s) sequencing data,” she told reporters.
The World Health Organization has also announced that it will send a Surge team to Gauteng Province to assist with surveillance, sequencing and contact tracing.