South Africa is on the brink of a third wave of coronavirus infections, driven by a steady increase in new cases after a four-day holiday weekend that saw millions of people travel to see family and friends and attend religious gatherings.
New infections climbed 46% in the past week with cases rising fastest in the Northern Cape and Gauteng, the country’s most-populous province, the National Department of Health said Wednesday in a statement.
“We have not yet hit the third wave, however, we are at risk and we hence need to be on heightened vigilance as a country,” it said.
These charts show why the health department is on “high alert”.
South Africa’s test positivity rate rose to 7.45% on Wednesday, according to health department data.
That’s the highest in five days and marks almost a month since the rate has hovered close to or above the 5% threshold that’s considered too high, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
A sustained increase in the positivity rate could force President Cyril Ramaphosa to consider reintroducing lockdown measures to curb the spread of the disease that’ll weigh on the recovery on an economy that contracted the most in a century in 2020.
While a resurgence of the virus is worrying, a third wave of infections in not expected to be as severe as the second.
That’s because studies in January and February showed 30% to 40% of South Africa’s population of about 60 million have already contracted the disease, according to the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium, a group linked to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Research by the Actuarial Society of South Africa suggests the new wave of infections is likely to be less pronounced than the second wave.
However, the recent arrival of variants of the disease first detected in India and England could skew estimations.
Still, Covid-19 hospital admissions have yet to show a significant increase and almost three quarters of the 4,186 patients currently in private or public facilities are being treated in general wards with the rest in high or intensive-care units. Eighty-three health-care workers were hospitalized as of Wednesday.
South Africa has been slower to roll out its vaccination program than many other African countries and had only inoculated 430,730 health-care workers as of May 12 through a Johnson & Johnson study.
A broader distribution of vaccines is expected to begin this month.