Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has reiterated the President’s call for South Africans to keep calm amid the latest variant, Omicron.
“There is just no basis for some of the leaders of countries which have imposed these restrictions on travelling for us in South Africa and other countries in Southern Africa,” he said on Monday.
The Minister, together with a panel of scientists, hosted a media briefing to present the state of readiness to respond to the Variant of Concern by the government.
“There is no basis for South Africans to panic. We have been here before. This is no new territory. We have now more than 20 months experience in terms of COVID-19 various variants and waves.”
He also thanked the local scientists who discovered the new COVID-19 variant.
“It’s often said you’re better off dealing with an enemy you know than an enemy you don’t know. So you can imagine if we have just seen infections rising and didn’t know what was the cause?”
However, thanks to the scientists, he said the country is now aware that the resurgence was driven by the new variant.
“Our medical scientists, our epidemiologists, clinicians are working on studying this virus, its characteristics and its impact on us as human beings, as citizens.”
Phaahla has assured South Africans that in a matter of days and weeks, the scientists will have gone to the bottom of the matter.
“But in the meantime, we are doing everything possible to make sure that our health facilities are ready,” he said.
“We know that as the infections arise, people will get sick, some severe, especially those who have not been vaccinated.”
He also warned that those who are jabbed might also get ill.
Engaging world leaders
Meanwhile, he said under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership supported by the World Health Organisation, government was engaging leaders of various countries, especially those who have initiated these travel bans to convince them it was “very unnecessary”.
“The travel bans are not helping us; they just make things more difficult.”
In addition, he said the President, Minister Naledi Pandor and others, were engaging leaders of various countries in Europe and the Americas regions.
“Later in the afternoon, we will be presenting a statement on behalf of Southern African countries to condemn the actions of those who have imposed travel bans.”
The Minister said had South Africa kept “quiet” about the new variant there would have been no travel bans.
“But that would have been very detrimental because our approach is not to have our citizens live in false security and for safety.”
He repeated the President’s call that the best response to this fight against the resurgence over and above the non-pharmaceutical interventions are vaccines.
More cases expected in a few days
Top South African infectious disease expert, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said he was amazed at how fast the numbers are going up given that the country had low transmission until barely a week ago.
“We expected and prepared for a new variant as far back as September. However, we did not know when it would come.”
While little is still known about the new variant, he predicted that more young people will fall ill mainly because it is an age group that is less vaccinated.
“So you will see more cases there,” he said, adding that people are being reinfected because this variant will bypass some of that immunity.
“The first thing we can expect is higher transmissibility, so we’re going to get more cases quickly. We are not seeing early evidence of this and if that happens, I am expecting we will talk over 10 000 cases by the end of the week.”
In addition, the country will see pressure on hospitals within the next two to three weeks.
However, Abdool Karim expects that vaccines should “hold well”, in terms of preventing hospitalisations and severe disease.
“The last thing we need is panic and overreaction and certainly what we’ve seen in knee jerk reactions. We have dealt with variants before.”
Meanwhile, he said closing the borders has almost no benefit.
Source: South African Government News Agency