New Delhi: South Africa reported a recent surge in COVID-19 cases among children, which was not seen in the previous waves of the pandemic even as the country is handling the sharp increase of Omicron variant cases. Experts in South Africa raised concern as more children under five and teenagers aged between 15 to 19 tested positive for the infection in the fresh surge.Also Read - No Decision Yet On COVID Vaccination Of 12-14 Age Group By Centre: Report

Dr. Waasila Jassat of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), while addressing a press briefing by the South African, on Friday said, “We have always seen children not being heavily affected by the COVID epidemic in the past (and) not having many admissions (to hospitals).” Also Read - Centre Revises Covid-19 Treatment Guidelines, Drops Use Of Oral Antivirals, Antibiotics For Adult Patients

Dr. Jassat, however, said the number of COVID-19 cases is “still lowest in children. “As expected, the incidence is still lowest in children. However, the incidence in those under five is now second-highest and second only to the incidence in those over 60. The trend that we are seeing now that is different from what we saw before is the particular increase in hospital admissions in children under five years,” Dr Jassat said, according to a report by news agency PTI. Also Read - Fourth Dose Of COVID Vaccine Provides Limited Defense Against Omicron: Israel Study

Dr. Michelle Groome, also from the NICD, said more research would be done to investigate the reasons behind this phenomenon. It is still very early on in the wave. At this stage, it has just started in the younger age groups and we will know more (by) monitoring this age group in the coming weeks. We do just need to highlight the importance of surge preparedness to also include pediatric beds and staff, Groome said.

Dr. Ntsakisi Maluleke, an official of the health department in Gauteng province, which is the worst hit with up to 80 per cent of the daily infections, also expressed concern. The phenomenon of younger age groups as well as pregnant women having increased infection is currently being investigated, she said. “We are hoping that in the coming weeks we will also be able to give reasons for why this particular cohort of patients is having increased infections,” Dr. Maluleke said.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla said infections and positivity rates were rising in seven of the country’s nine provinces. “Only the Free State and Northern Cape are currently showing low numbers and low positivity rates. Even though with them, we are not talking about the one to two per cent, but between three and five per cent positivity rates. While we are still dealing with few days and limited data, indications are that this variant is indeed highly transmissible, including infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the infections are causing mostly mild illness, especially for those who are vaccinated,” Phaahla said.

Earlier, South African scientists warned that reinfections among people who have already battled COVID-19 appear to be more likely with the new Omicron variant than with earlier coronavirus mutants.

A research group has been tracking reinfections in South Africa and reported a jump with the arrival of Omicron that they hadn’t seen when two previous variants, including the extra-contagious delta variant, moved through the country. On Thursday, the findings of the preliminary study were posted online which is yet to undergo scientific review.

One of the researchers, Anne von Gottberg of the University of Witwatersrand, at a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing on Thursday said, “Previous infection used to protect against delta, and now with Omicron it doesn’t seem to be the case.” “We believe that vaccines will still, however, protect against severe disease,” Gottberg said as per news agency The Associated Press reported.