The number of COVID-19 infections has reached a plateau, with the increase in infection rates driven by school-age children, Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, announced on Friday.
According to the Minister, the past 14 days have given a “confusing” picture and shown a slow drop in infections.
“The picture has been that of a stalemate where there’s no serious decline and yet no worrying rise in infections. Instead of the curve flattening it has taken the shape of a plateau,” he told the media.
In the past seven days, Phaahla said the number of infections decreased by 0.3%, with three provinces recording a rise compared to the seven days earlier. These include Free State at 20%, Gauteng at 17% and Mpumalanga at 12%.
In addition, 16 districts in the country have shown increased rates of infections in the past week.
“There have been reports of sub-variants of the Omicron variant but the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) colleagues don’t seem to think it’s a major factor.”
According to the Minister, epidemiologists believe that the reopening of schools is responsible for stagnation in the slowing down of new cases, especially in youngsters below the age of 20.
“It is possible that increased movement after holidays, especially as schools open, is also adding to this. We are optimistic that as schools settle down and there is reduced movement of people, there will be a faster and sustained reduction of infections.”
Meanwhile, hospitalisations remained stable with just over 5 000 in the past 24 hours, with over 85% in general wards with only 4.2% capacity utilised, 6.7% in high care and 8.4% in ICU utilising 7.5% of capacity.
“At this stage, we can therefore restate that our health facilities are not under pressure from COVID-19.”
According to the NICD’s Head of the Division of Public Health, Surveillance and Response, Dr Michelle Groome, the institute has noted an increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly between the ages of 10 and 19.
“This is really in keeping with the schools that came back a few weeks ago.”
In addition, Groome said their sequencing data for January still shows the dominance of Omicron.
However, according to the expert, a peak has also been observed in the Omicron sub-variant BA.2, as scientists try to get more information.
“We have increased the sequencing from those provinces where we’ve seen increases monitoring the proportion that is due to the BA.2. Rest assured that we are monitoring for any new variants that may occur as well.”