South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic Omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.
Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint — far from conclusive yet — that Omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.
South Africa has been at the forefront of the Omicron wave and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.
After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province — South Africa’s most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria — the decrease started earlier and has continued.
“The drop in new cases nationally combined with the sustained drop in new cases seen here in Gauteng province, which for weeks has been the centre of this wave, indicates that we are passed the peak,” Marta Nunes, senior researcher at the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics department of the University of Witwatersrand, told The Associated Press.
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“It was a short wave … and the good news is that it was not very severe in terms of hospitalizations and deaths,” she said. It is “not unexpected in epidemiology that a very steep increase, like what we saw in November, is followed by a steep decrease.”
Worldwide, the variant has been detected in at least 89 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 5:30 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
For more details on how COVID-19 is impacting your community — including hospital data and the latest on restrictions — check out the coverage from CBC newsrooms around the country.
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In Prince Edward Island, as of 8 a.m. AT, all people arriving on P.E.I. will have to self-isolate for a minimum of four days. Fully vaccinated people with a P.E.I. Vax Pass will have to isolate for four days, while unvaccinated individuals will have to complete eight days of self-isolation.
Nova Scotia is reducing gathering limits as of today, after reporting a single-day high of new cases Tuesday, with 522.
New Brunswick announced Tuesday the province will move to stricter restrictions after Christmas, just before midnight on Dec. 27.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the province’s chief medical officer of health is asking physicians to help with the COVID-19 booster vaccination campaign as public health contends with a surge of cases driven by the Omicron variant.
In a letter sent to physicians on Monday, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province’s vaccination system needs help. “Public health capacity is strained due to case and contact management and the ongoing pediatric vaccination campaign,” she said. “Therefore, I am requesting your support to administer booster doses to eligible members of the population.”
In Quebec, the province is planning to postpone surgeries and is requesting support from the Canadian Armed Forces to prepare for an expected spike in hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant. The goal is to add staff to vaccination centres in order to boost the third-dose campaign, Radio-Canada reports.
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In Ontario, the chief medical officer of health is warning that demand is growing for COVID-19 tests as daily case counts surge.
Dr. Kieran Moore said Tuesday that the province may use rapid antigen tests to diagnose COVID-19 cases if public health units experience shortages of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Ottawa Public Health reported on Monday that it has limited access to PCR tests because of a growth in cases involving the Omicron variant.
In the North, people flying into the Northwest Territories over the holidays will be able to get rapid COVID-19 testing kits from the Yellowknife and Inuvik airports. Meanwhile, Yukon added two new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, though the total number of active cases in the territory fell from 60 to 49.
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Manitoba‘s new restrictions came into effect on Tuesday, as the province reported 302 new COVID-19 cases.
In Saskatchewan, modelling released by the province Tuesday suggested that Omicron-driven cases and hospitalizations will increase dramatically without stronger interventions. No new restrictions were announced.
In Alberta, the province is reducing allowable gathering numbers as of Christmas Eve. Restaurants, pubs and bars will have a maximum table capacity of 10 people, while events that seat more than 1,000 people will be at 50 per cent capacity.
In British Columbia, health officials on Tuesday reported a record 1,308 new cases of COVID-19. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned the public during a live news conference that it’s now “inevitable that most of us in the province will be exposed at some point.”
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-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:03 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 276.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.3 million.
In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden announced more federal vaccination and testing sites. He also accused unspecified cable television personalities and social media companies of making money by “peddling lies” about vaccines.
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In the Asia-Pacific region, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ruled out a Christmas lockdown, saying hospitals were coping well with a record surge in cases fuelled by Omicron.
Japan has found its first suspected instance of community spread infection from the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the governor of Osaka prefecture said.
And in China, one local case has forced the city Dongxing to order its residents to stay at home, halt public transport and some school classes, and postpone the clearing of travellers and cargo to pass through its port of entry.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 6:25 a.m. ET