South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said hospitals are now preparing for more admissions as the country enters a fourth COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron coronavirus strain.
“As the country heads into the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started,” Ramaphosa said on Monday.
South Africa’s daily COVID-19 cases surged last week to more than 16,000 on Friday, up from roughly 2,300 on Monday.
Ramaphosa said in a weekly newsletter that Omicron appeared to be dominating new cases in most of the country’s nine provinces and urged more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The president stressed that a surge in infections was expected.
“Disease modellers 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,” he said.
He also urged people to get vaccinated and said the country now has sufficient supplies of vaccines.
“Vaccination is essential for our economic recovery because as more people are vaccinated more areas of economic activity will be opened up,” he said.
So far, nearly 25 percent of the South African population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 4.7 percent has received a single shot, according to the Our Word in Data website.
The government would soon convene the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic and decide whether further measures are needed to keep people safe, Ramaphosa said.
Scientists in South Africa and other countries are racing to establish whether Omicron is more contagious, causes more severe disease and is more resistant to existing vaccines.
But some early anecdotal accounts from doctors and experts in South Africa have suggested that many infections caused by the new variant are mild.
“We are keeping a close eye on the rates of infection and hospitalisation,” Ramaphosa said.