A new type of virus casts a shadow over experts in South Africa
Pretoria – Overcast skies and drizzle match the dreary mood at Tshwane University of Technology, a hot spot in the latest wave of COVID-19 cases in South Africa, seemingly driven by the new omicron variant that is leading countries around the world to impose new restrictions.
After several students tested positive, the university postponed some tests, and officials in the larger Tschuan metropolitan area, which includes the capital, Pretoria, have pushed vaccinations, especially among younger adults who have been slow to get vaccinated.
At TUT, as the university is known, a few students wanted to talk about the new alternative that cast a shadow over everyone else. Not much has been vaccinated – only 22% of 18-34-year-olds in South Africa – and some seem to be rethinking it, despite the university’s vaccination center closed for the weekend.
Mangoba Zeta, the student who got the shot, said he would push his classmates to do the same.
“I’m trying to encourage them so they can get vaccinated, so they can get away from the coronavirus because it’s there, it’s killing people, and now the numbers are increasing,” Zeta said. “Now when we watch TV, we can see people have coronavirus. So they should be vaccinated!”
Nearly two years into the pandemic, the world is racing to contain the latest variant, which was first identified in South Africa but has emerged worldwide. Countries are imposing restrictions or bans on travelers from several countries – much to the chagrin of the South African government – and are reimposing measures such as the imposition of the mask that some hoped were a thing of the past.
The World Health Organization has named the new version of the virus “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible form of concern, although its actual risks are not yet understood. The World Health Organization said early evidence suggests it poses an increased risk that people who have already been infected with COVID-19 could contract it again. It may take weeks to see if current vaccines are less effective against it.
However, some experts hope that vaccines will be at least somewhat effective in preventing serious illness and death — and continue to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Gauteng Province – home to South Africa’s largest city, Pretoria and Johannesburg – is the epicenter of the new boom. So far, cases there appear to be mild, according to doctors, and the number of hospitalizations has not increased.
But experts warn that the first round of infection was among young people and the situation could become even more dire if the new surge affects the elderly and unvaccinated in South Africa. In all, 41% of those 18 years of age or older are vaccinated – but young people have been particularly slow to move forward.
At least three universities in South Africa – the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein – have announced that vaccinations will be mandatory for students starting next year. Some experts believe that more measures will be needed.
“I think the decision South Africa will have to make is probably around mandatory vaccination,” said Musa Mushabella, professor of public health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.
Demand for the vaccine has been so slow that the government recently ordered slower deliveries to allow time to use up its current stockpile of 19 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson shots.
A new boom and even a new variant were long expected, but the speed with which Omicron hit came as a “shock” for South African health experts.
While the numbers of confirmed cases are still relatively low, they are increasing at a high rate. The new rise started after some student partying in Pretoria. The numbers quickly jumped from a few hundred cases a day to thousands. South Africa announced 3,220 new cases Saturday, 82% of them in Gauteng, according to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. This is still well below the peak of the last wave, when more than 25,000 were confirmed in one day.
Up to 90% of new cases in Gauteng province are caused by Omicron, said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform. in a tweet, Citing the results of diagnostic tests.
“We expected that we might see a new or a different variant gaining momentum in the fourth wave…but we didn’t really expect to see a variant with this kind of multiple mutations. That’s able to become highly transmissible,” said Mushabella, the expert from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. and fleeing or fleeing immunity at the same time.” “This was really the shock that we felt.”
Although the current cases are concentrated in Pretoria and Johannesburg, tests show that Omicron is already present in all nine South African provinces.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the weekend met health officials and is due to address the nation Sunday night about the rising cases.
Back at TUT, Nhlanhla Africa Maphosa, a 25-year-old management student, is still trying to digest the news and what it would mean for his studies.
“It was only last week when they checked the statistics and then realized that many students had been affected by COVID-19 on the main campus,” Mafusa said. “We are not sure of the statistics. … But what we can say is that a high percentage or a high percentage of students have contracted the COVID-19 virus.”
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