South Africa readies hospitals as Omicron variant drives new COVID-19 wave

Healthcare workers assist patients being treated at a makeshift hospital run by charity organisation The Gift of the Givers, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 10, 2021. Picture taken July 10, 2021. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham

  • South Africa's daily infections surged last week to more than 16,000 on Friday from roughly 2,300 on Monday.

South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions, as the Omicron coronavirus variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.

Omicron was first detected in southern Africa last month and has triggered global alarm as governments fear another surge in infections. 

South Africa's daily infections surged last week to more than 16,000 on Friday 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.

"South Africa 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.

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 anecdotal accounts from doctors and experts in South Africa are reassuring, suggesting that many infections it causes are mild. read more

"We are keeping a close eye on the rates of infection and hospitalisation," Ramaphosa said.