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South Africa Covid-19 cases have nearly quadrupled since Tuesday, with Omicron fueling the surge

<i>CNN</i><br/>South Africa's Covid-19 cases have nearly quadrupled in the last four days
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South Africa's Covid-19 cases have nearly quadrupled in the last four days

By Duarte Mendonça, CNN

South Africa’s Covid-19 cases have nearly quadrupled in the last four days, underscoring concerns around how contagious the new coronavirus Omicron variant might be as the country enters its fourth wave of the pandemic.

On Friday, South Africa reported on 16,055 new Covid-19 cases, up from 4,373 new cases on Tuesday.

Friday’s numbers bring the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases past the 3 million mark since the start of the pandemic, according to data released by the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

“Today the institute reports 16,055 new COVID-19 cases that have been identified in South Africa, which brings the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 3,004,203. This increase represents a 24.3% positivity rate,” Friday’s statement said.

On Thursday, the NICD also revealed that some of the new cases were people who had previously had Covid-19 and had been reinfected with the Omicron variant.

“Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Professor Anne von Gottberg, a microbiologist from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said during news briefing on Thursday.

“We monitored … reinfections for the Beta and the for the Delta wave, and we didn’t see an increase in reinfections over and above what we expect when the force of infection changes, when the wave stops. However, we are seeing an increase for Omicron,” she said.

Data from South Africa however is showing that reinfections may be less severe, Professor Gottberg said.

“We believe … that disease will be less severe,” Gottberg said. “And that’s what we’re trying to prove and to monitor very carefully in South Africa. And the same would hold for those that are vaccinated,” she added, stressing that vaccines will continue to help prevent severe disease and hospital admissions as cases continue to rise at a “rapid” rate.

As the numbers for new cases continue to rise, the number of deaths seems more stable in comparison, with 25 new Covid-19 related deaths reported on Friday, the NICD said.

While only a limited number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country are being sequenced, Gottberg said, out of 249 cases sequenced in November, 183 were confirmed to be the Omicron variant — equivalent to 70-75% of cases. A total of 65,990 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours, according to the NICD.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization also announced that they will deploy a surge team to the country’s Gauteng province — the current epicenter of the Omicron outbreak — to help with surveillance, sequencing, and contact tracing.

The WHO will also be providing technical assistance to boost the production and distribution of medical oxygen in Botswana, where Omicron has also been detected, Dr. Salam Gueye, WHO regional emergency director for Africa said.

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