Looming fourth wave no surprise but South Africa has all the tools to beat it, says Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country is well equipped to deal with the new Covid-19 variant.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country is well equipped to deal with the new Covid-19 variant.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday suggested that South Africa was equipped to deal with the Omicron Covid-19 variant which was first detected in Botswana and subsequently in South Africa.

He was addressing the nation on the Covid-19 outbreak for the first time in three months after the discovery of the new variant which has seen a spike in infections.

Ramaphosa suggested that South Africa was ready to deal with the new variant adding that it came as no surprise.

“We were told we can expect a fourth wave in the next few weeks if not sooner ... We were told to expect a new wave in December and also warned of a new variant,” said Ramaphosa.

Confirmed Covid-19 infections had risen to 1,600 new cases in the past week, compared with 500 in the previous week and 275 in the week before that with the Omicron believed to be behind the spike in infections, particularly in Gauteng. 

Ramaphosa said not a lot was known about the variant but what scientists had discovered thus far was that it had more mutations than any previous variant.

“Second, we know that Omicron is readily detected by the current Covid-19 tests. This means that people who are showing Covid-19 symptoms or have been in contact with someone who is Covid-19 positive, should still get tested. Third, we know that this variant is different from other circulating variants and that it is not directly related to the Delta or Beta variants. Fourth, we know that the variant is responsible for most of the infections found in Gauteng over the last two weeks and is now showing up in all other provinces,” Ramaphosa said.

He said the way to tackle the wave included going back to Covid-19 basics, which included wearing masks, social distancing but also getting fresh air. 

“We already have the tools that we need to protect ourselves against it. We know enough about the variant to know what we need to do to reduce transmission and to protect ourselves against severe disease and death.

“The first, the most powerful, tool we have is vaccination. Since the first Covid-19 vaccines became available late last year, we have seen how vaccines have dramatically reduced severe illness, hospitalisation and death in SA and across the world. Vaccines do work. Vaccines are saving lives,” he said.

With 35% of the total SA adult population being vaccinated and 41% still on single doses, Ramaphosa said he was pleased with the progress made in vaccinating many of the country’s citizens. But he urged those who had not yet vaccinated to hastily do so, saying that and mask wearing was the best way to tackle this new variant which scientists were still trying to understand.

“Tonight, I would like to call on every person who has not been vaccinated to go to their nearest vaccination station without delay,” said Ramaphosa.

“If there is someone in your family or among your friends who is not vaccinated, I call on you to encourage them to get vaccinated. Vaccination is by far the most important way to protect yourself and those around you against the Omicron variant, to reduce the impact of the fourth wave and to help restore the social freedoms we all yearn for. Vaccination is also vital to the return of our economy to full operation, to the resumption of travel and to the recovery of vulnerable sectors like tourism and hospitality,” he added.

Though there were fears that his latest address to the nation may come with new restrictions being imposed, Ramaphosa said there would be none at the moment but the government had set up a task team to explore the possibility of mandatory vaccines,

This would mean that people would need to provide vaccine certificates to be able to have access to certain activities, events and locations.

“The task team will report to the interministerial committee on vaccination chaired by the deputy president, which will make recommendations to cabinet on a fair and sustainable approach to vaccine mandates.”

He said no further restrictions were being imposed because vaccines were available to use to curb the spread of the virus.

The country will remain on coronavirus alert level 1 for now.



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