Fifth wave in South Africa: what to expect in the autumn

In the meantime, it has been detected in a number of other countries, including Austria. Vienna reported the first cases, as did Styria and Salzburg. So far, there are no indications of the new virus variants in nationwide wastewater monitoring.

Not comparable

In Germany, BA.2 is still dominant, but the number of infections is declining significantly. “You can’t apply the situation in South Africa one-to-one to Central Europe. The omicron wave in Africa was much longer ago and we know that after a previous infection or after a fresh vaccination for eight to twelve weeks there is very good protection against symptomatic infection is given, also before other variants. So we still have a little breather, since the BA.2 wave is just dying down,” says virologist Monika Redlberger-Fritz from MedUni Vienna.

There is still not much information on how BA.4 and BA.5 are characterized. Initial indications indicate that there are no major differences with regard to the clinical picture, but that the two subvariants are more infectious than BA.2. “You have to see that in context, BA.2 was also more infectious than BA.1. But you forget that there was a time between these two variants, in which the antibody levels dropped,” emphasizes Redlberger-Fritz. This means that the further away there is from a previous wave, the more people become infected with a new variant because their protection has decreased after an infection or vaccination.

Can evade immune system

It is autumn in South Africa at the moment – and as in many other countries over the past two years – it followed a summer with low infection rates and a less well-protected population as a result. However, there is evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 are better able to evade the immune system. According to South African genome sequencing, they contain mutations, some of which are already known from earlier variants and which make it difficult for the immune system to recognize the virus.

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