The “highly transmissible” omicron variant of coronavirus that permeates South Africa brings a disproportionate number of children under age 5 to hospitals, a leading medical adviser to the South African government said Friday.
The alarming development is increasing the prospects for a new global battle against the virus, as the new variant has already spread to dozens of countries. South African scientists also said the new variant spread much faster than any previous wave of coronavirus.
In a worrying virtual press conference, government adviser Waasila Jassat said about the hardest-hit area of Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is located: “In Gauteng, it is clear that the weekly increase in cases and approvals is higher than before. In addition, we have seen a fairly steep increase [in hospital admissions] in all age groups, but especially in those under 5.”
Five cases of Omicron’s COVID were found in New York.
She added: “The incidence rate among people under 5 is now the second-highest, and after those over 60, the trend we are seeing now that differs from what we have seen before is a particular increase in hospital admissions among children under five years of age.
“We have always seen in the past that children were not very affected by the COVID epidemic and didn’t have many approvals. Then, in the third wave, we saw more income among young children under five and adolescents aged 15 to 19. Now, at the beginning of this fourth wave, we have seen a fairly strong increase in all ages, but especially in those under five years old.” an alarming rate.
For example, in Tshwane Metro, more than 100 children under the age of 5 were admitted to hospitals with COVID in the first two weeks of the new fourth wave (November 14-27). On the other hand, in the first two weeks of the third wave of the country, in May of this year, fewer than 20 children were admitted to hospitals.
In a subsequent question and answer session, which asked about the extraordinary number of children hospitalized, Jassat said he suspected there might be an “immunity gap” and that the lack of vaccines for children could be the numbers.
she said that the increasingly vaccinated children are those who “get sick and need to be admitted.”
she added that pediatricians at Tshwane Hospital had told them anecdotally that “all” children aged 12 to 18 who entered were not vaccinated even though they were eligible. “And the youngest children, under the age of 12 who were not eligible for vaccination, none of their parents, except three, were vaccinated.”
She said, “shows the value of vaccination among adults who protect children in homes.”
Just over 42 percent of all adults in South Africa have received at least one dose of vaccine, said Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
Another specialist, epidemiologist Michelle Groome, said at the virtual meeting that daily hospital admissions in the most affected parts of Gauteng province have increased from 19 to 78.
Groome has released an alert about the seven-day average “rapid rise” cases, which rose from 332 on December 1 to 4,814 today.
She said, “If you look at the slope of this increase, you can see that we are really seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of new cases in a very short time, and we are really going up.”
She said that the reproductive count of the virus — a measure of how many infected people each infected person infects — was at 2 in Gauteng.33 has increased.
Groome said, “It’s the highest we’ve seen since the pandemic started.”
According to Phaahla, daily cases increased by 9,000 cases per day, going from “2,465 new cases last Thursday when this variant was announced to yesterday’s high of 11,535.”
“This variant is indeed highly transmissible, even for people who have already been vaccinated,” he said.
This comment reflected the results of an article published Friday, not yet peer-reviewed, that, as reported by the Washington Post, Omicron is three times more likely to cause re-infection than previous variants.
The publication said: “Statistical analysis of approximately 2.8 million positive coronavirus samples in South Africa, of which 35,670 were suspected to be reinfections, led researchers to conclude that the Omicron mutation has a “significant ability to escape immunity against a previous infection.”
Phaahla tried to sound an optimistic note by saying that he believed that the new variant was more transferable “but less strict” than the previous variants.
He said that while vaccinated people are infected, a disproportionate number of those who end up in hospitals were not vaccinated, and that the South African hospital system is coping for the time being and has spare capacity.
But, his observations are likely to be treated with caution as hospitalizations tend to lag infections by several weeks, and the press conference left little doubt that the country is being pummeled by the Omicron variant.
He said the country’s COVID test positivity rate has soared to 22 percent from below 2 percent just two weeks ago.
Phaahla expressed his “outrage and disappointment” at travel bans on southern African nations, saying they “undermine international cooperation and solidarity.”
The UN has previously said such flight bans are a form of “travel apartheid” and could be counterproductive as they will dissuade nations from reporting new variants.