South Africa’s acting health minister said the Delta coronavirus variant is dominant in the country, fueling a third wave of infections that may prompt the government to tighten lockdown restrictions further.
The current resurgence of the disease could be worse than the second wave after studies discovered the prevalence of the new strain first detected in India, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said in an online news conference on Saturday. The new variant is driving infections in South Africa’s commercial hub of Gauteng, she said.
“We have a new variant that is prevalent in the country,” Kubayi-Ngubane said. “This new variant is called Delta.”
The Delta variant that’s been running rampant in South Africa is 30% to 60% more transmissible than other strains, including the Beta variant, first identified in the African nation last year, Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, said at the same briefing.
“Preliminary estimates from genomic data and epidemiological studies suggest Delta may be significantly more transmissible than other variants of concern, including Beta,” Lessells said.
The strict lockdown measures initially imposed in South Africa helped it get through its first two waves of the coronavirus without major hospitals having to turn people away. But a slow vaccination rollout means only about 4% of the population has had any shots, just as the arrival of mid-winter leads more people to gather indoors.
The rise in infections means the government need to urgently consider tightening lockdown restrictions including on movement of people, according to Koleka Mlisana, the head of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19.
“We are going to make sure that we get onto hard restrictions, tighter restrictions because obviously what actually increases transmissions is person-to-person” contact, Mlisana said. “It’s going to mean we need to be very decisive.”
The government is weighing recommendations from the ministry and health experts on how to curb the spread of the virus, with current restrictions in Gauteng possibly deemed insufficient, Kubayi-Ngubane said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the country on Sunday evening on his planned response to curb the spread of the virus after a special cabinet meeting, the government said.