Health experts and government officials will meet in the coming week to discuss possible changes to South Africa’s lockdown restrictions, says health minister Joe Phaahla.
In a media briefing on Friday morning (3 December), Phaahla said that the government was still following its risk-adjusted approach in dealing with restrictions and that it would follow the same key metrics as in previous waves when looking at interventions.
Phaahla said that the government needed an additional week to monitor the statistics of South Africa’s fourth Covid-19 wave and the impact of the Omicron variant. While he was hesitant to pre-empt the meeting, the minister said that the rapid increase in cases and the level of hospitalisations would decide what measures may be introduced.
He added that this was not solely a government decision and that South Africans have a part to play in following non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce spread and infections.
Phaahla said that the government could even reduce regulatory restrictions if people continue to wear masks and avoid indoor gatherings. He called for a reduction of end-of-year parties and said that any gatherings should be held outdoors.
South Africa has reported a steep rise in Covid-19 infections in the past seven days, moving from a total of around 2.565 new cases on 25 November, when the Omicron variant was first announced, to highs of 11,555 on Thursday (2 November).
“Over the last seven days, the new spike has moved into the whole of Gauteng and also registered a presence in all our nine provinces, with numbers starting to rise in the Western Cape,” Phaahla said.
“Indications are that this variant is indeed highly transmissible, including infections of people who have been vaccinated. But, of course, infections are causing mostly mild illness, especially for those who are vaccinated.”
The health minister noted that hospital admissions are mainly dominated by the unvaccinated, with the most impacted people below the age of 40.
While Gauteng accounts for 70% – 80% of new cases, the province is not seeing threatening levels of hospitalisations as yet, he said. Phaahla said there is still significant spare capacity in both public and private health facilities.
“While there are still some questions around the Omicron variant with more research still going on. The evidence very clear thus far is that like all previous variants, our best protection against serious illness is vaccination.”
On Thursday (2 December), South Africa reported 11,535 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,988,148.
Deaths have reached 89,915 (+44), while recoveries have climbed to 2,850,905, leaving the country with a balance of 47,328 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 26,109,436 (+327,177).
Read: The best and worst-case scenarios for the Omicron variant in South Africa: economists