Experts from South Africa have expressed some concern about the rise in the number of Covid-19 infections mainly among young children, even as the nation recorded more of 16,055 infections and 25 deaths overnight on Friday.
“We have always seen children not being heavily affected by the Covid epidemic in the past (and) not having many admissions (to hospitals). In the third wave, we saw more admissions in children under five and in teenagers who were 15 to 19.”
“Now, at the start of this fourth wave, we see quite a sharp increase across all age groups, but particularly in the under-fives,” stated by Dr WaasilaJassat of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) at a media briefing by the Health Ministry on last Friday.
“As expected, the incidence is still lowest in children. However, the incidence in those under five is now second-highest and second only to the incidence in those over 60.”
“The trend that we are seeing now that is different from what we saw before is the particular increase in hospital admissions in children under five years,” Jassat further added.
Dr Michelle Groome who is also from the NICD, stated that more research will be done to investigate the causes behind this certain phenomenon.
“It is still very early on in the wave. At this stage, it has just started in the younger age groups and we will know more (by) monitoring this age group in the coming weeks.”
“We do just need to highlight the importance of surge preparedness to also include pediatric beds and staff,” Groome stated.
Dr Ntsakisi Maluleke who is an official of the health department in Gauteng province, which is the worst-hit place with up to 80% of the daily infections, even expressed concern.
“The phenomenon of younger age groups as well as pregnant women having increased infection is currently being investigated,” Maluleke stated.
“We are hoping that in the coming weeks we will also be able to give reasons for why this particular cohort of patients is having increased infections,” she further added.
Joe Phaahla, who is the health minister stated at the briefing that infections and positivity rates were in increasing in 7 of South Africa’s 9 provinces.
“Only the Free State and Northern Cape are currently showing low numbers and low positivity rates. Even though with them, we are not talking about the one to two percent, but between three and five percent positivity rates,” he stated.
“While we are still dealing with few days and limited data, indications are that this variant is indeed highly transmissible, including infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the infections are causing mostly mild illness, especially for those who are vaccinated,” the minister stated.
Phaahla stated that hospital admissions were dominated by those who are not vaccinated and young people mostly below 40, most of whom are not even vaccinated.
“At this stage, even in Gauteng province, which accounts for 80 percent of the new daily infections, we have not yet reached threatening stages in terms of our hospital capacity and new hospital admissions.
“The trend is indeed that of a rapid rise in cases, but we hope that the mild nature of the illnesses among those who are infected will continue to be the dominant feature,” the minister stated.
Phaahlaassured that both the national and Gauteng provincial health services will be able to handle those who seriously become ill.
However, one risk seen was that even if they had mild illnesses, health care workers would have to go into complete isolation leading to shortages of certain skilled staff at all hospitals.
The health minister stated that national and provincial authorities were seeking into addressing this immediately.
Dr. RamphelaneMorewane of the National Department of Health stated that, “a contingency plan has been put in place across South Africa to ensure that hospitals never run short of oxygen during the fourth wave.”