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'No need to panic': health minister on Omicron variant in SA

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla says SA is ready for a fourth wave. File photo.
Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla says SA is ready for a fourth wave. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Health minister Joe Phaahla says there is “absolutely no need to panic” about the emergence of the Omicron variant and fears of a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections because the country is prepared to deal with it.. 

The government is engaging several countries which imposed travel bans against SA to reverse that “unwarranted” decision, he added.

In a media briefing on Monday, several officials said they were not caught with their pants down and had earlier this year predicted the fourth wave of infections. 

“We want to reiterate that there is absolutely no need to panic. There is just no basis for some of the leaders of countries which have imposed travel restrictions for us in South Africa and other countries in Southern Africa. 

“There is no basis for South Africans to panic. We have been here before, this is no new territory for us. We are now more than 20 months experienced in terms of Covid-19, various variants and waves,” Phaahla said.

SA has come under fire after disclosing the emergence of the variant. Phaahla, however, defended the decision as he thanked scientists for their diligent work.

“We are better off dealing with an enemy we know,” he said.

Gauteng health DDG Dr Freddy Kgongwana echoed similar sentiments, saying the province was prepared and had sufficient capacity to deal with a fourth wave, despite a lack of trust shown by some communities.  

“We cannot deny there are challenges. The issue we have is that we need to assure communities that we are ready for the fourth wave. 

“We are aware of the level of mistrust that exists in our communities but we have gone through three waves and we are confident we are going through the fourth wave and we will make appropriate decisions in time for whatever curveballs or decisions that fourth wave will present,” said Kgongwana.

The department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) lamented the decision by countries including the UK, US, Sri Lanka, Oman, Japan, Thailand and Mauritius to impose travel bans on SA and other countries in response to Omicron. 

The department’s Clayson Monyela said: “It’s quite regrettable, very unfortunate to be talking about travel restrictions ... This decision is unwarranted and unjustified because it’s not based on science. We as Dirco are engaging all the countries that have taken this decision, with a view to persuade them to reverse this decision.” 

The bans have caused frustration among travellers, leaving some stranded in foreign countries. 

Monyela said the department had assembled a team to render the necessary consular services.   

Addressing the nation on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa also slammed the travel bans against Southern African countries, saying they were unjustified, discriminatory and not backed by science. 

TimesLIVE


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