Omicron wave has peaked, South Africa says as officials lift curfew

Restrictions eased as cases and hospitalisations fall

Matt Mathers
Friday 31 December 2021 16:03
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<p>A throat swab is taken from a patient to test for Covid at a facility in Soweto, South Africa</p>

A throat swab is taken from a patient to test for Covid at a facility in Soweto, South Africa

South Africa’s fourth wave of Covid fuelled by the more contagious Omicron strain may have peaked, government officials believe as restrictions are lifted ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations.

Infections rates in the country, where Omicron was first detected, have been steadily declining for days, with just under 13,000 recorded in the latest 24-hour period – compared to around 20,000 on 17 December.

The seven-day average is rate is now at less than 11,000, compared with nearly 24,000 at the height of the Omicron wave earlier in December. At the beginning of November, before Omicron took hold, South Africa regularly logged less than 1,000 new infections each day.

The government in Pretoria removed a midnight to 4am curfew, citing decreasing cases, vaccination levels and increased capacity in hospitals.

“All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level,” a statement from a special cabinet meeting held on Thursday said.

In addition to the lifting of restrictions on movement, gatherings of up to 1,000 people can take place indoors and 2,000 outside.

Venues that are too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing must not operate at more than 50 per cent of capacity.

Alcohol establishments that have licences to operate beyond 11pm are permitted to revert back to full licence conditions.

According to the government statement, there has been an almost 30 per cent decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending 25 December 2021 (89,781), compared to the number of new cases detected in the previous week (127,753).

“Cases declined in all provinces except the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, which recorded increases of 14 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively,” the statement said.

The government also said there has been a decline in hospital admissions in all provinces except for Western Cape.

Although cases and hospitalisations are falling, officials warned that the “risk of increase in infections is still high” given how infectious Omicron is.

There was a marginal increase in the number of deaths in all the provinces, the statement said.

The National Coronavirus Command Council said it would continue to closely monitor Covid data and make further adjustments as necessary, particularly if pressure on health facilities increases.

The wearing of masks in public places in South Africa is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence.

South Africans are also urged to continue observing basic health protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.

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