[File Image] A medical worker, administers a nasal swab to a patient at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing center.
The National Health Department says South Africa may see a sixth wave of COVID-19 infections if the virus continues to mutate.
Despite lockdown restrictions being lifted, South Africans are still being infected with the COVID- 19 virus. Experts say many are of the belief that the country is over the pandemic which remains far from the truth. Numbers show that people are not visiting testing station to have themselves checked out for the virus.
Since the the virus crossed into South African borders early 2020, the country has reported more than 4 million positive COVID cases. More than one hundred thousand lives have been lost.
Deputy Director General of Health Dr Nicholas Crisp says COVID-19 still remains a health threat in South Africa.
“COVID is not over. It’s still very much around. The virus is in circulation and people are still getting sick. The virus is very unpredictable. It’s is a very interesting virus and mutates quite easily. Its genetic material is different each time. That means the way we respond is different in each wave. The virus continues to mutate, so if we get another mutation we may get another wave,” says Crisp.
Dr Crisp says booster vaccine shots are essential to keep the body’s immune system on track to fight the virus. He says booster shots provide high levels of immunity.
“We would advise people to continue to be vaccinated to protect themselves. At the moment on all the samples, that are sequenced, we are seeing omicron BA4 and omicron BA5 are almost exclusively the variants in circulation. The other things that people should know, our immunity wanes over time. If we are not repeatedly exposed to the material of the virus, then we lose our cell memory of that virus. The trick is to keep getting boosters of the vaccines,” Crisp explains.
Meanwhile, Professor Willen Hanekom, Director of The African Health Research Institute says testing for COVID-19 has dropped drastically because people assume the country is over the pandemic. The retirement of COVID-19 restrictions has caused people to drop their guard against a virus that is known to continuously mutate. Hanekom says it is for this reason that people have begun to ignore COVID-19 symptoms.
“The amount of viruses in the individual that tests positive for COVID-19 has been going up gradually. This is actually the pattern that happened before the previous wave, so we think there may be a wave coming but there is one big problem that is we not really testing enough people anymore. Not enough people go and test when they have colds and flu. Most people think we are over COVID when we are not over COVID,” says Hanekom.
He says COVID-19 will never go away but over time it will be similar to having the common cold.
“Long COVID happens in about one in 10 people who had covid. We define it as having symptoms 3 months after the onset of COVID. People classically have fatigue, extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, some cognitive dysfunctions and problems concentrating. SARS COVID-2, which causes covid-19 is likely to stay with us. It’s likely to be one the viruses that cause colds. It can modify itself to survive,” Hanekom added.
Experts have encouraged people who are not vaccinated, to take the jab.
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