While South Africa will remain on the Coronavirus Alert Level 1, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on citizens who have not vaccinated to do so immediately.
“In taking the decision not to impose further restrictions at this stage, we considered the fact that when we encountered previous waves of infection, vaccines were not widely available and far fewer people were vaccinated,” the President said on Sunday.
Addressing the nation on developments in the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the President encouraged every person who has not been vaccinated to go to their nearest vaccination station without delay.
The President’s plea comes as scientists earlier this week identified a new variant of the Coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
“The identification of Omicron coincides with a sudden rise in COVID-19. This increase has been centred in Gauteng, although cases are also rising in other provinces.
“We have seen an average of 1 600 new cases in the last seven days, compared to just 500 new daily cases in the previous week, and 275 new daily cases the week before that.
“The proportion of COVID-19 tests that are positive has risen from around 2% to 9% in less than a week. This is an extremely sharp rise in infections in a short space of time,” the President said.
In addition, South Africa is expected to experience a fourth wave early in December as epidemiologists and disease modellers have warned government.
“There are several concerns about the Omicron variant, and we are still not sure exactly how it will behave going forward. However, we already have the tools that we need to protect ourselves against it.
“We know enough about the variant to know what we need to do to reduce transmission and to protect ourselves against severe disease and death. The first, the most powerful, tool we have is vaccination,” the President said.
Since government launched its public vaccination programme in May 2021, over 25 million vaccines doses have been administered in South Africa.
Forty-one percent of the adult population have received at least one vaccine dose, and 35.6% of adult South Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Significantly, 57% of people 60 years old and above are fully vaccinated, and 53% of people aged between 50 and 60 are fully vaccinated.
While this is welcome progress, it is not enough to enable us to reduce infections, prevent illness and death and restore our economy,” the President said.
Engagements on mandatory vaccination
Government has set up a task team that will undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.
“We have therefore 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,” the President said.
This includes discussions that have been taking place at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) between government, labour, business and the community constituency, where there is broad agreement on the need for such measures.
“The task team will report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccination chaired by the Deputy President, which will make recommendations to Cabinet on a fair and sustainable approach to vaccine mandates.
“We realise that the introduction of such measures is a difficult and complex issue, but if we do not address this seriously and as a matter of urgency, we will continue to be vulnerable to new variants and will continue to suffer new waves of infection,” the President said.
Government to review current regulations
With the recent detection of Omicron, government will closely monitor infection rates and hospitalisation over the coming days and will review the situation in another week.
“We will then need to determine whether the existing measures are adequate or whether changes need to be made to the current regulations.
“We have started the process of amending our health regulations so that we can review the use of the Disaster Management Act to manage our response to the pandemic, with a view to ultimately lifting the National State of Disaster,” the President said.
Government will also implement the national resurgence plan to ensure that hospitals and other medical facilities are ready for the fourth wave.
“We are focusing on effective clinical governance, contact tracing and screening, effective clinical care, availability of health personnel. To ensure our facilities are ready, all hospital beds that were available or required during the third wave of COVID-19 are planned and prepared for the fourth wave.
“We are also working to ensure that oxygen supply is available to all beds earmarked for COVID-19 care,” the President said.