The South African government said it would be premature to re-impose strict restrictions following the emergence of a new strain of coronavirus because its impact has yet to be properly assessed.
The country will remain at virus alert level 1, the lowest, with bans on alcohol, a curfew and other measures to be reviewed within a week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised speech on Sunday after a meeting. of the National Coronavirus Command Council.
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While the new mutation is present in all nine provinces and its appearance has coincided with an increase in new cases, “we are still not sure exactly how it will behave in the future,” Ramaphosa said. We have made “the decision not to take any further restrictions at this stage,” he said.
South African scientists last week identified the new variant, known as omicron, which sets off alarms around the world and sends financial markets plummeting. The European Union, the US and other countries followed the UK in announcing travel bans on South Africa and its neighbors, sparking another flow into their troubled tourism industries ahead of the year-end Christmas season.
Ramaphosa described the bans as “completely unjustified” and discriminatory, and said they will further harm the economies of the affected countries.
“We call on countries that have implemented travel bans to immediately lift these restrictions,” which are not informed by science, as rich nations support developing countries to access vaccines, he said.
The scientists say that the new strain carries a large number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a key role in the entry of the virus into the cells of the body. Labs in Europe, the US and Africa are preparing for tests to see how the variant is likely to behave in people who have been previously vaccinated or infected. The mutation has already been detected in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, and several other countries.
Peak of infection
South Africa has had more than 2.96 million confirmed coronavirus infections, the most on the continent, with 2,858 new cases reported on Saturday, and the test’s positivity rate has reached 9.8%. Only 36% of South African adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
“If cases continue to rise, we can expect to enter a fourth wave of infections in the next few weeks, if not sooner,” Ramaphosa said. “We know enough about the variant to know what we need to do to reduce transmission and protect ourselves against serious illness and death.”
The president urged all people to get vaccinated, saying they worked and saved lives. The option of making vaccinations mandatory in some areas and for those doing some activities is being evaluated, he said.
“I would like us to take this matter very seriously,” Ramaphosa said. “We still have too many people who express doubts and who are reluctant to get vaccinated.”
© 2021 Bloomberg