BusinessDay

South Africa dither to impose lockdown as omicron surge subsides

South Africa has decided not to impose a lockdown or other major restrictions on its residents as a huge wave of omicron cases appears to be subsiding.

The country’s huge wave of omicron cases appears to be subsiding just as quickly as it grew in the weeks after it first announced to the world that a new coronavirus variant had been identified.

According to Washington Post, a South Africa’s top infectious-disease scientist, who has been leading the country’s pandemic response, said Wednesday that the country had rapidly passed the peak of new omicron cases and, judging by preliminary evidence, he expected “every other country, or almost every other, to follow the same trajectory.”

“If previous variants caused waves shaped like Kilimanjaro, omicron’s is more like we were scaling the North Face of Everest.”

Salim Abdool Karim speaking with the Washington Post said this was referring to the near-vertical increase in infections that South Africa recorded in the first weeks of December.

“Now we are going down, right back down, the South Face and that is the way we think it may work with a variant like an omicron, and perhaps even more broadly what we will see with subsequent variants at this stage of the pandemic,” he said.

Recall the southern African country experienced a massive positivity omicron variant rate early in December but in a twist of fate, there has been a major turnaround in rates and stress on testing facilities.

Read also: Omicron: UAE suspends passenger flights from Nigeria, Kenya others

The country has therefore decided not to impose lockdown or other major restrictions, although many countries, including the United States, Canada, etc, imposed restrictions on travellers originating in South Africa and neighbouring countries.

However, Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert on Monday disclosed that the Biden administration was considering lifting those travel restrictions, given that community spread of the variant was occurring in many countries.

“We likely are going to pull back on that pretty soon because we have enough infections in our own country.

“We are letting in people from other countries that have as much or more infection than the Southern African countries.

“So it is likely we are going to look at that very carefully to see if we can pull back,” Fauci told reporters at the National Press Club.

Washington Post reported that on Wednesday, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases released a study not yet peer-reviewed — that bolstered earlier findings from the country that omicron was causing fewer hospitalizations and instances of severe side effects than previous coronavirus variants.

Omicron variant more resistant to the vaccine but causes less severe covid, major South African study concludes

The study found that the omicron variant was 80 percent less likely to lead to hospitalization than the delta variant and that for patients who were hospitalized, the risk of severe illness was 30 percent lower.

Karim said that both the quick peaking of cases and omicron’s lower severity could be due to multiple country-specific factors in South Africa, the most prominent being that more than 70 percent of South Africans have been infected by previous variants, probably giving a greater proportion of the population a more robust antibody response.

“In South Africa, variants, even highly mutated ones, will run out of people pretty quickly.

“Pretty much by the end of last week it was running out of steam; there just are not enough people left to infect,” he said.

Karim noted that omicron accounted for nearly every new coronavirus case in South Africa last week. Recent data from the United States showed that more than 70 percent of new U.S. cases were caused by the variant.

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