JOHANNESBURG, Dec 23 (Reuters) – The rate of coronavirus infections in South Africa will soon surpass the peak hit in the first wave earlier in the year, the health ministry warned on Wednesday, as the country battles a new, faster-spreading variant of the respiratory disease.
Positive cases increased by 14,046, pushing total infections to 954,258, the ministry said.
The positivity rate – or the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that are actually positive – was at 26%, around double the average rate of infection the country had seen before December, when the virus showed signs of waning.
South Africa’s health department on Friday said it identified a new virus mutation, variant 501.V2, saying it was likely behind a recent surge in infections. A number of countries have responded by barring travel to and from South Africa.
Local and World Health Organization (WHO) officials say the variant is different from one identified in Britain, though both carry mutations that make them more transmissible than previously circulating dominant strains.
In a statement announcing the latest infection rates, the Ministry of Health said South Africans would need to “review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb the alarming rate of spread”.
“The rate of spread is much faster than the first wave and we will surpass the peak of the first wave in the coming days,” the ministry said.
Early in December, President Cyril Ramaphosa tightened COVID-19 rules to curb the resurgence, but said a full lockdown similar the one implemented in March was not an option due to the economic impact. (Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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