New lockdown restrictions to be considered for South Africa at Wednesday meetings

President Cyril Ramaphosa will host a number of meetings on Wednesday (8 December) to discuss the rapid spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in South Africa and possible government interventions.

Ramaphosa plans to head directly into meetings once he concludes his African tour, he told BusinessDay at the sidelines of a media briefing in Senegal. He was expected to arrive back in the country at 04h00.

The president acknowledged that while infections are rising in the country, the government needs to be cautious about how it handles any additional measures it puts in place.

He said that he would first receive a report from the health department and other bodies before a decision is made, adding that any announcement relating to regulations would be preceded by a meeting of the presidential coordinating council, which includes provincial premiers and metro mayors.

“So whatever measure we take will be properly considered by everyone affected.”

Hospitalisations key 

In a media briefing on 3 December, health minister Joe 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.

Mediclinic International, one of South Africa’s three biggest hospital groups, said while it is seeing an increased influx of Covid-19 patients only a few require admission for further care.

In a statement on Tuesday, the group said it is seeing a greater proportion of children under 12 than in previous waves in South Africa and many asymptomatic patients admitted for other ailments. Of Covid-19 patients admitted 25% are vaccinated as are 16% of those in intensive care, the unit said.

The variant appears to be highly transmissible, said Gerrit de Villiers, the chief clinical officer of the Mediclinic unit. Still, so far, a lower percentage of admitted Covid-19 patients require intensive care and ventilation, he said.

The findings are similar to those put out earlier by the South African Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on Covid-19 hospitalisations.

On Tuesday (7 December), South Africa reported been 13,143 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 3,051,222.

Deaths have reached 90,002, while recoveries have climbed to 2,864,648, leaving the country with a balance of 96,572 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 26,639,293 (+148,877).

With reporting by Bloomberg.

Read: The businesses and areas which could introduce a vaccine mandate in South Africa: expert

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New lockdown restrictions to be considered for South Africa at Wednesday meetings