Story at a glance

  • Officials said the Gauteng province, which contains the city of Johannesburg, is experiencing a rise of severe infections in children under 5.
  • “In the third wave, we saw more admissions in young children under 5 and in teenagers, 15-19, and now, at the start of this fourth wave, we have seen quite a sharp increase across all age groups, but particularly in the under 5s,” Waasila Jassat, public health specialist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said.
  • Researchers stressed, however, it was too early to know whether children were particularly susceptible to the omicron strain.

Health officials in South Africa say the new omicron coronavirus variant appears to be spreading much faster throughout the country than previous strains of the virus while there’s been an increase in hospital admissions among young children.

The highly mutated new variant that was designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week has fueled a surge of new infections and is now the dominant strain in South Africa, where it was first discovered. Health officials in the country on Thursday reported the country clocked more than 11,000 new cases. 

Officials said the Gauteng province, which contains the city of Johannesburg, is experiencing a rise of severe infections in children under 5. 

“It’s clear in Gauteng, the week-on-week increase we’re seeing in cases and admissions is higher than we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen quite a sharp increase [in hospital admissions] across all age groups but particularly in the under 5s,” Waasila Jassat, public health specialist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said, according to The Daily Beast

“We’ve always seen children not being very heavily affected by the COVID epidemic in the past, not having many admissions. In the third wave, we saw more admissions in young children under 5 and in teenagers, 15-19, and now, at the start of this fourth wave, we have seen quite a sharp increase across all age groups, but particularly in the under 5s,” Jassat said. 


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Jassat said she believed there may be an “immunity gap” and lack of vaccination among children may be the result of the increase in hospitalizations. 

Researchers stressed, however, it was too early to know whether children were particularly susceptible to the omicron strain. 

On Thursday, health experts said data suggested the variant may carry a higher risk of COVID-19 reinfection than previous strains of the virus. A preprint study found the variant could be reinfecting people at three times the rate of beta and delta, suggesting omicron is “associated with a substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection.” 

Researchers are still working to determine how well current vaccines on the market hold up against the strain, which has been identified in more than 20 countries. 


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Published on Dec 03, 2021