South Africa regards the introduction of vaccination as a spiral of omicron cases

A healthcare professional performs a PCR test for Covid-19 at the Lancet laboratory in Johannesburg on November 30, 2021.

Emmanuelle Crozet | AFP | Getty Images

As the first country to identify a new variant of the omicron Covid-19, South Africa is gearing up for a fourth wave of infections, and the government is reviewing vaccine mandates.

South African scientists last week discovered a highly mutated variant, which has since been designated by the World Health Organization as a “worrying variant”, which has now been identified in at least 24 countries around the world. The Dutch authorities say the omicron was already present in the Netherlands before South Africa reported it to WHO, raising questions about how widely the option might have spread.

Omicron is rapidly emerging as the dominant variant in South Africa, with the country’s National Institute for Infectious Diseases claiming “an exponential rise in infections,” with 74% of the virus genomes sequenced in the past month from the new variant.

The number of cases increased from 300 per week on average two weeks ago to 1000 per day last week. On Wednesday, 8,561 cases were registered in the country.

In Sunday’s televised address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said epidemiologists and disease simulators were warning that South Africa should expect a fourth wave of Covid-19 in early December, with the variant now found in all provinces of the country.

Ramaphosa noted that more than 25 million doses of the vaccine have been administered since May, with about 36% of adults now fully vaccinated. However, Health Minister Joe Fahla said the daily vaccination rate fell below 130,000 last week, well below the government’s target of 300,000 immunizations per day.

‘Traveling through apartheid’

Ramaphosa criticized rich countries for their failure to provide equal access to vaccines and criticized numerous countries that immediately banned travel from South Africa and neighboring countries after the announcement of the new option. The President called such bans unfounded and “unfairly discriminating against our country and brotherly countries in southern Africa.”

South Africa’s daily Covid-19 cases are skyrocketing as omicron becomes the dominant option in the country.

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Since then, his comments have been echoed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has accused countries imposing travel bans in the region of “tourist apartheid.”

“What is unacceptable is that one part of the world, that is, one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy, is doomed to lockout, when they revealed the existence of a new option, which, by the way, already exists in other parts of the world, including Europe, ”Guterres said on Wednesday.

Requirements for vaccines?

Uncertainty about domestic vaccinations is also a factor in the slowdown in South Africa. To increase the number of vaccinations, Ramaphosa announced that a task force has been created to “hold broad consultation on making vaccination mandatory for certain activities and places.”

However, there is no time frame for when this task force will report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccinations, which will then submit recommendations to the Cabinet.

In a note to investors on Monday, Oxford Economics Africa senior policy analyst Low Nel and economist Ji-A van der Linde said there was little sign of urgency on the part of the government in addressing the thorny issue of vaccine requirements.

“This issue was resolved ahead of the November 1 local government elections (LGE), but this cannot be avoided as the vaccination rate remains well below the levels required for the country to achieve immunity,” they said.

“The creation of the task force is in line with the spirit of Mr. Ramaphosa, whose penchant for consultation and consensus-seeking is well documented, but that does not mean the government is willing to abandon the carrot in favor of the stick.”

Recovery of activity

Ramaphosa has so far avoided imposing new social restrictions by keeping the country at alert level 1, which means that public gatherings are limited to 750 indoors and 2,000 outdoors, while the curfew remains in effect from midnight to 4 a.m. While the government has pledged to closely monitor infection and hospitalization rates, any renewed measures are not expected to be as severe as those introduced in December 2020, when the delta option triggered a second wave of infections.

South Africa’s economy is expected to contract in the third quarter, and increased restrictions could further affect economic activity in the fourth. However, Oxford Economics said that depending on the severity of the fourth wave, the economy could start 2022 in “much safer conditions than previously thought.”

The PMI (purchasing managers index) in the country rose strongly in November, rising to 57.2 points from 53.6 in October, amid growing manufacturing activity.

However, economists are concerned that an otherwise stable fourth quarter could be threatened as the omicron spreads like wildfire across South Africa.

“After slowing growth over the past two quarters, the latest data suggests that the manufacturing sector was in much better shape to support overall growth in Q4 before the new viral wave hit,” said Virag Foris, emerging markets economist at Capital. Economy.

“Officials are likely to try to avoid introducing economically harmful containment measures, but the risk of such restrictions will persist during the recovery period in the manufacturing sector and beyond.”

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