COVID-19 jabs could soon be a condition of entering public places as South Africa moves to ramp up vaccinations and tackle rising numbers of fresh cases seemingly fueled by the new Omicron variant.
A decision on vaccination mandates is expected later this week when President Cyril Ramaphosa returns home from West Africa. He arrived on Sunday in Senegal on the last leg of his four-country West African.
The visit to Senegal – at the invitation of President Macky Sall – marks the end of Ramaphosa’s four-nation visit to West Africa which included Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana.
On Monday Ramaphosa will participate in the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security before he heads home.
“As the country heads into a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started,” wrote Ramaphosa on Monday in his weekly newsletter.
“The Omicron variant that was brought to global attention by South African scientists nearly two weeks ago appears to be dominating new infections in most provinces.
“Over the last week, the number of daily infections has increased five-fold. Nearly a quarter of all Covid-19 tests now come back positive.”
On Monday the SA National Institute for Communicable Diseases said 46 708 tests were conducted in the last 24hrs, with 11 125 new positive Covid-19 cases. One person died of the virus during that period.
“Compare this to two weeks ago, when the proportion of positive tests was sitting at around 2%,” said Ramaphosa.
The president said scientists in South Africa and around the world were still hard at work to answer critical questions about the new Omicron variant, such as its transmissibility, its progression, whether it causes more severe disease and how effective vaccines will be against it.
“While the surge in infections is of great concern, we should remember that we anticipated it,” said Ramaphosa.
He said disease modellers in South Africa projected that the country would likely experience a fourth wave around December and that it was almost inevitable that new variants of the virus would emerge.
“As we enter the fourth wave, and as the country gears up for the festive season, the urgent priority is for more people to get vaccinated,” said Ramaphosa.
More than 25 million people have received the free jabs in a population of about 60 million.
Ramaphosa said scientific evidence shows that vaccination is the most effective means of preventing the spread of new infections and that vaccines reduce severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
“In the coming days and weeks we will know more about the Omicron variant. At the same time, we are keeping a close eye on the rates of infection and hospitalisation,” said Ramaphosa.
“We will soon be convening a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic. This will enable us to take whatever further measures are needed to keep people safe and healthy.”
At the last family meeting, before he left for West Africa, Ramaphosa said “we have been undertaking engagements with social partners and other stakeholders on introducing measures that make vaccination a condition for access to workplaces, public events, public transport and public establishments.”