Friday, January 21

In the fourth wave, daily Covid-19 infections increase fivefold


Dear South African colleagues:

As the country enters a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we had not seen since the pandemic began.

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The Omicron variant that South African scientists brought to world attention nearly two weeks ago appears to be dominating new infections in most provinces.

During the last week, the number of daily infections has increased fivefold. Nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 tests now come back positive. Compare this to two weeks ago, when the proportion of positive tests hovered around 2%.

Scientists in our country and around the world are still working hard to answer critical questions about the new variant of Omicron, such as its transmissibility, its progression, whether it causes a more serious disease, and how effective vaccines will be against it.

While the rise in infections is of great concern, we must remember that we anticipate it. Disease shapers in our country have told us that we would likely experience a fourth wave around this time and that it was almost inevitable that new variants of the virus would emerge.

Read: SA hit by virus prepares mandatory vaccination policy

As we enter the fourth wave, and as the country prepares for the holiday season, the urgent priority is for more people to get vaccinated.

Scientific evidence shows that vaccination is the most effective means of preventing the spread of new infections and that vaccines reduce serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

South Africa now has sufficient supplies of vaccines and we have vaccination stations set up in every part of the country.

As the days go by and infections increase, the reasons for getting vaccinated become more pressing and the need becomes more and more urgent.

Vaccines are safe and, like all other routine vaccinations we receive as children and against diseases like measles, they offer the strongest form of protection available.

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Vaccination is essential for our economic recovery, because as more people are vaccinated, more areas of economic activity will open up. We can do our work and socialize under less strict restrictions, and our lives can return to some degree of normalcy.

As individuals, we must carefully consider the risk implications to ourselves of not being vaccinated and the risk of transmitting the infection to our children, parents, family members, coworkers, and those we don’t even know.

The massive increase in infections means that, in addition to vaccination, we must be much more diligent in reducing our contact with people outside of our home. Social distancing is difficult as the holiday season approaches, but evidence shows that gatherings, primarily those held indoors, carry the highest risk of transmission.

Many people have been disappointed by the cancellation of some big events in recent days, but it is by far the safest and most responsible thing to do right now.

Read: South Africa’s Omicron Epicenter Sees Sudden Vaccination Rush

Fortunately, we all know what to do, like wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds. Now we just need to make sure we do these things more consistently and without exception.

As we work more urgently to increase vaccination rates, we need to significantly improve our game on prevention measures to ensure our collective safety.

We should not wait for new regulations before reducing the size of meetings, as research has shown that this is an effective means of reducing the spread of the virus.

All public and private facilities, including workplaces, taxis, buses and trains, must ensure adequate ventilation to prevent the spread of the virus.

Each facility that serves the public has a legal responsibility to ensure that people practice social distancing. We must reinvigorate our masking program, where we insist on not entering any public or commercial facility without a mask.

While we don’t yet know what impact the Omicron variant will have on hospital admissions, we have been preparing hospitals to admit more patients and are investigating how we can quickly secure medication to treat Covid-19.

In the coming days and weeks we will learn more about the Omicron variant. At the same time, we are closely monitoring infection and hospitalization rates.

We will soon organize a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the status of the pandemic. This will allow us to take all the additional steps necessary to keep people safe and healthy.

I call on all South Africans to get out and get vaccinated without delay. If needed, take advantage of Vooma vaccination weekends that make it easy to visit the facilities closest to you.

We all play our role in the social and economic recovery of South Africa. Let’s do what is right and responsible for our own health and the health of others.


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