HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo says the first case of BA.4 Omicron variant and another one of BA.5 variant were detected in the country about four weeks ago.

Speaking during a media briefing, recently, Masebo said the Omicron variant was the main cause of COVID-19 in Zambia.

“SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is still being transmitted among populations across the globe including within Zambia. Various variants have contributed to the upsurges in the pandemic. In Zambia, the Omicron variant persists as the main cause of COVID-19. Through the efforts of our genomic sequencing consortium coordinated by the ZNPHI, we have detected the first case of BA.4 Omicron variant and another one of BA.5 variant four weeks ago. Both the concerned individuals are from Chongwe District in Lusaka Province. I wish to highlight that the BA.4 lineages of the Omicron variant have been circulating since January 2022 and have been detected in several countries across the globe, including South Africa, Botswana, the UK and appears to be growing,” she said

“For instance, in South Africa, the percentage of sequences designated BA.4 has grown from less than 1% in January 2022 to more than 35% at the end of April 2022, while the percentage of sequences designated BA.5 stood at 20% by April 2022. While they carry additional mutations, that is genetic changes compared with other lineages of Omicron variant, there is no evidence currently to suggest these mutations are associated with more severe disease or reduced response to vaccines. We continue to stress the need to continually adhere to all prescribed public health interventions including the five golden rules and vaccination. We are pleased to note the increased number of people who are accessing the COVID-19 vaccines. While the increase in positivity is small and the number of persons being admitted due to COVID-19 is low, we must ensure zero disease and deaths due to COVID-19 and indeed other preventable diseases.”

Masebo said five provinces had passed 60 percent dose 1 vaccine coverage.

“COVID-19 vaccines remain a sure and effective way of preventing and controlling the pandemic hence protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying. It is pleasing to note that five Provinces; these being Central, Copperbelt, Luapula, Northwestern and Western Provinces have now passed 60% dose 1 coverage. We remain encouraged that we will reach the 70% coverage in these provinces and selected districts in the other five provinces. An analysis of District performance with regards to vaccine coverage indicates that our highest performing districts, at above 60% fully vaccinated are Shibuyunji, Chililabombwe, Chembe, Mufulira, Sesheke and Ngabwe,” she said.

“Furthermore, I am happy to report that our top 20 districts all have above 52% fully vaccinated coverage. On the other hand, our top 20 lowest performing districts currently are reporting between 8-26% coverage for fully vaccinated persons. Of these, Kaputa (17.4%), Shiwangandu (16.7%) and Lupososhi (8.2%) have the lowest coverage so far. We have also been conducting an analysis of the districts having the highest proportions of untapped unvaccinated eligible population and these include Lusaka, Kitwe, Ndola, Petauke and Monze. We have advised our vaccination teams to ensure efforts to reach these unvaccinated clusters are strengthened because none of us is safe until we are all safe.”

She said the national coverage now stood at 36 percent fully vaccinated.

“We appreciate and applaud the public for their continued interest and seeking out of vaccination services even following the conclusion of this year’s campaign. In the last 24 hours, we administered over 76,000 vaccine doses. We continue to urge all those eligible to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity at a vaccination centre near you. The number of fully vaccinated persons now stands at 3,961,464 (including those who received the single dose J&J vaccine), and our national coverage now stands at 36% fully vaccinated. Further, 2,385,130 people have received dose 1 and 332,877 have received booster doses,” said Masebo.

“In the last 24 hours we recorded 139 new cases out of 2,572 tests performed, representing a 5% positivity rate. Notably, positivity remains high (above 5%) in Central, Copperbelt, North-western and Southern provinces, with 10%, 9%, 6% and 11% recorded respectively, We had five new admissions from Lusaka (4) and Southern (1) provinces. We had no new deaths for a sixth consecutive day. We discharged 151 patients from both home-based case and facility management, leaving us with 1,053 active cases countrywide. Of the active cases, only 16 (2%) currently require admission with 10 on oxygen. None of the patients is classified as being in critical condition. Remember, the pandemic is not over. We still face the risk of a fifth wave and we must continue to do everything in our power to stay safe including adhering to the five golden rules and getting ourselves and all eligible members of our households vaccinated.”