South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday, as the Omicron coronavirus pandemic pushes the country into a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.
Omicron was first detected in southern Africa last month and has raised global alarm as governments fear another surge in infections.
South Africa’s daily infections rose to more than 16,000 on Friday last week, up from nearly 2,300 on Monday.
Ramaphosa said in a weekly newspaper that Omicron appeared to dominate new cases in most of the country’s nine provinces and urged more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“There is now a sufficient supply of vaccines in South Africa, … vaccination is essential to our economic recovery because as more people are vaccinated, more areas of economic activity will open up,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the government would soon convene the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the pandemic situation and decide whether further measures were needed to keep people safe.
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 anecdotes from doctors and experts in South Africa are reassuring, suggesting that many of the infections it causes are mild.
“We are keeping a close watch on infection and hospitalization rates,” Ramaphosa said.