Covid-19 infections are falling in the municipal area that includes South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, according to analyses of wastewater samples, indicating that the omicron wave may have peaked in the city where it was first found in the country.
The findings align with comments by Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Friday that the omicron-driven wave may be peaking in Gauteng, where Pretoria and Johannesburg are situated.
Still, national daily cases hit a record this week and the incidence of the virus appears to be rising in at least seven of the nation’s nine provinces. Gauteng accounted for 27% of the just under 25 000 new infections confirmed on Thursday, down from 72% of the about 16 000 found on December 3.
“Early indications are that we might have reached the peak in Gauteng,” Phaahla told an online media briefing. “But there is a corresponding, rapid increase of cases in the other big provinces.”
Gauteng is home to a quarter of South Africa’s 60 million people. Cases are also rising fast in KwaZulu-Natal, the second-most populous province, and the Western Cape, where Cape Town is located.
South Africa announced the discovery of omicron on November 25, and daily cases since then have risen at a far faster pace than in any of the country’s three previous infection waves.
The declining incidence of the disease in Pretoria points to sharply rising, but shorter, waves of infection as omicron spreads across South Africa and the world. Studies have shown that the variant is far more transmissible than earlier strains such as delta.
The volume of virus particles shed by people with Covid-19 has declined for two successive weeks at the Daaspoort wastewater treatment plant, which drains central Pretoria, the council said in a report on Friday for the week ended December 10. Elsewhere in Tshwane, the municipal area that includes Pretoria, treatment plants appear to be showing a decrease in virus particles, but more tests are needed, the council said.
While the particles are not infectious, they provide an indication of the prevalence of the disease. Still, the concentration of virus particles is increasing in Johannesburg, and across the four other provinces where samples were analysed.