Experts believe a new Covid surge in South Africa could hint at the next chapter of the pandemic.
Following a drop in cases after an “Omicron-related pandemic peak in December,” infections there have tripled over the past week and hospitalizations have increased, the New York Times (NYT) reported.
The new Spike, which has sparked fears of a fifth wave in the country, is powered by the BA.4 and BA.5, two sub-variants of the Omicron family. One expert said this may indicate a period of new subvariants rather than new variants.
“What we’re seeing now, or at least maybe the first signs, is that not entirely new variants are emerging, but current variants are starting to create their own lines,” Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, said the NYT.
Scientists said the body’s ability to fight off the new sub-variants depends more on your vaccination status than whether you’ve been infected in the past. In unvaccinated individuals, BA.4 and BA.5 evade the natural defenses generated by infection with the original omicron variant known as BA.1.
Meanwhile, experts are still determining whether the new wave is causing milder or more severe illnesses in South Africa. They say it’s unclear whether the two sub-varieties might emerge elsewhere in the world.
“We are in a difficult global moment where the past cannot truly predict the future,” said Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician who led the swine flu virus pandemic preparedness response.
However, keep writing TwitterProfessor Tom Wenseleers from KU Leuven said the situation in South Africa “gives a good idea of what the endemic balance will be: a significant wave every six months with significant mortality and morbidity”.
In the UK, government data on the most dominant variants showed that there were only six cases of BA.4 and three of BA.5. The most prevalent variants in new cases were the original Omicron variant BA.1 and BA.2.
Professor Christina Pagel, of University College London, told The Guardian it’s “very likely” that the new sub-variants will dominate here, adding that it would result in a small ripple at best and a similar experience to that at BA at worst .1 and BA.2.
Meanwhile, British experts have predicted that within a year we could be talking about ‘catching a Covid’ just like we do a cold.
The i news site reported that the virus has weakened and become more cold-like in recent weeks as people build immunity to vaccines and previous infections.
Professor Karl Friston, virus modeler at University College London, said: “The odds of dying from infection – or developing acute respiratory distress syndrome – continue to decrease with successive viral mutations”.
However, Covid remains deadly for some people and there is still a risk that immunity will deteriorate and a much deadlier new variant emerge.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/uk-news/956631/what-south-africa-can-tell-us-about-the-future-of-covid What South Africa can tell us about the future of Covid