Recent confirmed cases of Covid-19 show SA appears to have entered a new phase of the pandemic, says the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
The NICD found the increase in cases have been largely driven by two offspring — known as the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages — of the Omicron variant first identified in SA late last year.
“In this new phase, high population level immunity in SA likely means in the absence of a new, more severe variant, future spikes in infections are unlikely to result in large increases in hospitalisation and deaths,” said the NICD.
The institute said the new phase makes it increasingly difficult to use the same definitions and interpret the data in the same way as during the past two years.
“It means the country needs new ways to monitor risk which, in turn, will inform potential policies to protect the health system as well as individual risk mitigation,” said the NICD.
“For example, the current patterns demonstrate that in a context such as SA, with high levels of population immunity, it is possible to have a substantial surge in transmission that does not overwhelm the health system, even without putting new restrictions into place.”
The NICD suggested sufficient monitoring should be in place to detect major changes in time to respond.
“Changes could include increases in disease severity or susceptibility. Such monitoring will help ensure the country’s health system doesn’t become overwhelmed.
“It is also important that individuals have enough information to make decisions to protect themselves. Assessment of individual risk factors will also inform individual behaviour, such as mask wearing and the amount of contact with others. Those at the highest risk of severe disease may choose to avoid high-risk situations, particularly when transmission is high,” said the NICD.