South Africa is seeing an increase in coronavirus reinfections in patients who contract the Omicron variant, Anne von Gottberg, a microbiologist from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said during a Thursday news briefing.
“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 Africa briefing.
“We monitored these reinfection for the Beta [variant] and the for the Delta wave, and we didn’t see an increase in reinfections over and above what we expect when the force of infection changes, when the wave stops. However we are seeing an increase for Omicron,” Gottberg explained.
The data from South Africa, however, are showing that reinfections may be less severe, Gottberg added. “We believe, I think very much so, that the reinfections in our data, and hopefully from South Africa, that disease will be less severe,” Gottberg said.
“And that’s what we’re trying to prove and to monitor very carefully in South Africa. And the same would hold for those that are vaccinated,” she added.
South Africa is beginning its fourth coronavirus wave, Gottberg said with cases in the country rising at a “rapid rate,” particularly in the Gauteng province, the country’s most populous.
Over 8,000 new daily cases were detected in the country on Wednesday, Gottberg said, with scientists expecting cases to rise to 10,000 a day. “We believe that the numbers of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces throughout the country,” she said.
Only a limited number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country are being sequenced, Gottberg explained. Of 249 cases sequenced in November, 183 were confirmed to be the Omicron variant, equating to 70-75% according to Gottberg.
“It does look like there was a predominance of Omicron throughout the country. And Omicron has been identified through sequencing in at least five of our provinces (that are) sequencing data,” she told reporters.
The World Health Organization also announced that it will deploy a surge team to the Gauteng province to help with surveillance, sequencing, and contact tracing.