JOHANNESBURG (AP) – South Africa has accelerated its vaccination campaign by hitting pop-ups in malls and transport hubs to combat a rapid rise in new cases of COVID-19 a week after the omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered.
According to official statistics, the number of new daily cases of the disease nearly doubled to 8,561 on Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier. Scientists said they are preparing for the continuation of the surge.
“We want families to be safe this holiday season,” Health Minister Joe Fahla said Thursday. “Before heading home, before going on vacation, make sure you protect yourself and those you love. If you are visiting your parents and they have not yet been vaccinated, go with them to the nearest vaccination site. It could have saved their lives. “
The province of Gauteng, home to South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, is a hotbed of new infections, accounting for over 70% of new cases.
Gauteng officials say they were “preparing for the worst” by increasing the number of hospital beds and reopening some field hospitals in anticipation of increased hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients.
Tests show that the omicron variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, is spreading rapidly and is now found in five of South Africa’s nine provinces. It is not known how many new daily cases are due to the omicron because scientists can only perform complete genetic sequencing with a small number of positive tests.
However, the omicron appears to be “rapidly becoming the dominant option” in South Africa, according to a statement from the National Institute for Infectious Diseases. The institute reported that 74% of 249 samples sequenced in November were identified as omicron.
In October, before the discovery of the omicron, the delta variant was the dominant form of coronavirus in South Africa.
Scientists in South Africa and around the world are conducting genetic sequencing of omicron samples to learn more about this variant. Much remains unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious as suspected by some health authorities, whether it causes more severe disease, and whether existing vaccines are effective against it.
Gautenga Prime Minister David Mahura said Thursday that he is encouraged that more people are being vaccinated, with at least 50,000 vaccinations every day in the province this week.
However, according to Makhur, about half of the region’s 16 million residents remain unvaccinated. This number includes many migrants who are in South Africa without a permit and therefore cannot get vaccinated because they cannot register with the digital vaccination system, he said.
According to official statistics, about 36% of adults in South Africa are fully vaccinated. There are currently 19 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the country, but the rate of vaccination has slowed.
That’s why officials have launched a new campaign to increase the number of vaccines given before large numbers of South Africans travel and socialize during the holiday season.
Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has recorded a total of 2.9 million confirmed cases and nearly 90,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.