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COVID-19 WRAP | Positivity rate hits double figures as SA records 2,273 Covid-19 cases in 24 hours

29 November 2021 - 06:10 By TimesLIVE
Travellers arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) under Malaysia-Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) programme, after travel between the two countries was halted due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in Sepang, Malaysia November 29, 2021.
Travellers arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) under Malaysia-Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) programme, after travel between the two countries was halted due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, in Sepang, Malaysia November 29, 2021.
Image: REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin REFILE - Additional caption information

November 29 2021 - 20:51

WATCH | Travellers stranded at OR Tambo as Dirco tries to help those hit by Omicron travel ban

South Africans are bearing the brunt for having informed the world that the Omicron variant had been detected in SA.

Not only is this a huge inconvenience for travellers wanting to leave or enter the country, but the economy, particularly tourism and hospitality, will suffer.

Reuters spoke to travellers at OR Tambo International Airport who were trying to make it to the United Kingdom and other countries. 

November 29 2021 - 20:50

LISTEN | Gauteng 'well prepared' for rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations

The head of hospital services at the Gauteng Health Department, Dr Freddy Kgongwana, says the province is well equipped for a Covid-19 fourth wave.

He said the province' hospitals has 4,407 beds and is well equipped with oxygen tanks.

November 29 2021 - 20:45

'South Africans not just vaccine hesitant, they're apathetic,' says top vaccinologist

Expert vaccinologist Prof Shabir Madhi says one of the main things holding back South Africans from getting vaccinated is not just hesitancy, but apathy.

Madhi was sharing his insights during a Mail & Guardian webinar on Monday. With the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, SA is grappling with the question of whether to make vaccinations mandatory.

“There’s a difference between forcing someone and making it mandatory. It’s not about individual choice but how it affects everything else. It needs to be put in the context of exercising rights and the overall risk to the entire environment.

November 29 2021 - 19:48

Positivity rate hits double figures as SA records 2,273 Covid-19 cases in 24 hours

SA recorded 2,273 Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, with Gauteng again overwhelmingly the epicentre of the looming fourth wave of infections.

Of the new cases Gauteng accounted for 1,909 of them. The Western Cape (119 cases) was the only other province to breach the 100 mark, while KwaZulu-Natal (63), the North West (55) and Mpumalanga (53) passed the 50 mark for new infections.

This is according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which also said on Monday that the positivity rate - the number of confirmed cases against the number of tests taken in the same period - had reached double figures, at 10.7%.

November 29 2021 - 19:29

Travel ban keeps grannies from their grandkids, splits families, makes business fear the future

Sudden travel bans triggered by SA’s announcement of the discovery of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been devastating — and not just in economic terms.

Families, travellers and the many people looking forward to a holiday with people they haven’t seen for years because of lockdown were also left in the lurch as those plans were thrust into doubt.

Last week, dozens of countries banned travellers from SA due to the threat of the Omicron variant.

November 29 2021 - 19:13

Business 4 SA pushes for mandatory vaccination as it seeks legal clarity

Business for SA (B4SA) supports mandatory vaccination and wants a rapid move to restrict access to public indoor areas not required for emergency use to vaccinated people only.

B4SA chairperson Martin Kingston said the organisation is encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Sunday that a task team had been established to discuss mandatory vaccination for specific activities and locations.

“We need to rapidly move to a situation where only vaccinated individuals are allowed to travel in buses, taxis and airplanes, or to eat and drink in indoor establishments such as restaurants and taverns,” he said on Monday.

November 29 2021 - 17:16

AfriForum opposes mandatory jabs — but Cosatu open to the idea

AfriForum said on Monday it would oppose any decision by the government to make vaccines mandatory.

In a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, AfriForum said vaccine mandates were unjustifiable violations of personal freedoms.

This is in response to the president’s address to the nation on Sunday night, where he said the government had set up a task team that will undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.

November 29 2021 - 15:47

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu tests positive for Covid-19

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu is isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.

Zulu said on Monday that she went for a test after a persistent sore throat.

“It all started with a scratchy throat and I didn’t suspect anything, but when it persisted, I took the Covid-19 test yesterday [Sunday] and received the results this morning. I am feeling well and I can attribute this to the fact that the virus found me fully vaccinated.”

November 29 2021 - 13:46

'No need to panic': health minister on Omicron variant in SA

Health minister Joe Phaahla says there is “absolutely no need to panic” about the emergence of the Omicron variant and fears of a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections because the country is prepared to deal with it.. 

November 29 2021 - 13:00

Roland Schoeman ‘schooled’ for telling health professor to ‘do some research’

Swimming star Roland Schoeman landed in hot water on Sunday after he told the former head of the School of Nursing and Public Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Mosa Moshabela, to do his “research” on the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Schoeman responded to Moshabela’s tweet on ways in which SA can respond to the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron. 

November 29 2021 - 11:53

Omicron unlikely to reduce vaccine efficacy against hospitalisation and death: Prof Salim Abdool Karim

It could take between two and four weeks to nail down the facts about Omicron itself, but according to Prof Salim Abdool Karim, “current vaccines’ effectiveness against hospitalisation and disease is likely to remain strong”. 

Speaking at a governmental press briefing on Monday, Abdool Karim said that we don’t yet know this “definitively” but can extrapolate “based on what we know and how other variants of concern have reacted to the vaccines”.

He said while this issue of vaccines is “the area that has created concern and is behind the global over-reaction” there is cautious but positive news.

He added, “What we do know — and this comes from many different studies — is that even over time the protection of the vaccines against variants has remained pretty good, above 90%”. 

November 29 2021 - 11:30

India steps ups Covid-19 testing for international flyers

India will make on-arrival Covid-19 testing mandatory for flyers from more than a dozen countries, including South Africa and Britain where the Omicron variant has been detected, the health ministry said on Monday.

The decision will be effective from December 1 and comes after a man who recently returned from South Africa tested positive for Covid-19, though it is not yet clear which strain of the coronavirus he contracted.

Further investigations are ongoing, an official said.

"The patient is currently under observation and is displaying mild symptoms," Pradeep Awate, a senior health official in Maharashtra state where the man is isolating, told Reuters."

Still, we are monitoring him out of abundant caution.

"The federal health ministry said all arrivals from Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel will be tested at the airport using the RT-PCR method.

Additionally, 5% of all travellers from other countries will be randomly tested, the ministry added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already asked officials to review a decision to resume all scheduled international flights from December 15. Currently only special flights as per bilateral or other agreements are flying.

India reported 8,309 new coronavirus infections on Monday, taking the total to 34.58 million - only behind the tally of the United States. Deaths rose by 236 to 468,790, health ministry data showed. 

Reuters

November 29 2021 - 11:20

Portugal detects 13 cases of Omicron Covid-19 variant

Portugal detected on Monday 13 cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant - all related to players and staff members of Lisbon soccer team Belenenses, said health authority DGS.

Reuters

November 29 2021 - 11:20

Social media slams Texas governor for claiming South Africans are crossing US border illegally

Texas governor Greg Abbott has caught smoke on social media after falsely claiming South Africans are crossing into the US illegally amid the country's travel ban over the Covid-19 variant Omicron.  

On social media, the Republican blamed US President Joe Biden for “doing nothing to stop immigrants from SA entering the country illegally”.

“Biden banned travel from SA because of the new Covid variant. Immigrants have recently been apprehended crossing our border illegally from SA. Biden is doing nothing to stop immigrants from SA entering illegally. Pure politics and hypocrisy,” he wrote.

November 29 2021 - 11:15

S.Korea shelves plans to ease Covid measures due to high case count, Omicron

 South Korea said on Monday it has shelved plans to further relax Covid-19 curbs due to the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisation and death rates as well as the threat posed by the new Omicron variant.

President Moon Jae-in said the crisis had deepened and called for a united response to prevent the variant from entering the country including the mobilisation of more personnel and tightening contact tracing."

Numbers for new confirmed cases, severe cases and deaths are all on the rise and hospital bed capacity is tighter," Moon told a special Covid-19 response meeting.

This month, South Korea lifted restrictions on operating hours for restaurants and cafes.

It was going to lift limits on hours for bars and clubs as well as allow parties of up to 100 people from December 13 and then scrap all limits on gatherings by mid-February - but those plans are now on hold.

South Korean hospitals are treating 629 patients with severe Covid-19 and at least 1,200 are waiting for beds to free up in Seoul and its surrounding areas, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said, urging the public to get tested and get booster shots.

South Korea has not yet detected any cases of Omicron, which is potentially more transmissible and has been described by the World Health Organization as posing a "very high" global risk.

The country is restricting arrivals from South Africa and seven other nations over concern about the new variant.

There were 3,309 new Covid cases logged in South Korea for Sunday - down from a record high of 4,116 marked last week but still much greater than levels of around 2,000 before restrictions on cafes and restaurants were eased this month.

It has had 444,200 cases and 3,580 deaths since the pandemic began. Almost 80% of its population of 52 million is fully vaccinated.

Reuters

November 29 2021 - 11:10

Britain to offer everyone a Covid-19 booster eventually - vaccine official

Britain is moving towards offering everyone a Covid-19 booster vaccine, a member of Britain's vaccine advisory committee said on Monday, ahead of an expected decision on whether to extend and speed up booster shots.

"Inevitably, everybody will be offered a booster," Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC TV."

But what we want to do is make sure that it's done in a sensible order so that those that are most vulnerable for this infection can get boosted and their natural immunity levels can go up."

Reuters

November 29 2021 - 11:00

Possible mandatory vaccinations & stocking up on oxygen - how SA is preparing for the 4th wave

As concerns about the looming fourth wave of Covid-19 mount, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced several measures to manage the pandemic. 

SA is considering mandatory vaccinations and is stocking up on oxygen supplies for all beds earmarked for Covid-19 care, he said in a televised address on Sunday.

Government, labour and business were discussing mandatory vaccinations and there was “broad agreement” on introducing such a measure. 

November 29 2021 - 09:30

WATCH | Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija praised for this passionate clap back at travel bans

Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, co-chairperson of the Africa Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, has received praise online after she slammed the latest travel bans imposed on African countries. 

Several countries have imposed restrictions amid fears about the new Covid-19 variant Omicron. It was first detected in SA last week using samples taken between November 14 and 16.

In a scathing interview with the BBC over the weekend, Olatunbosun-Alakija criticised western countries for denying access to travellers from African countries, including SA.

November 29 2021 - 08:51

First suspected case of Omicron variant of Covid-19 detected in Switzerland

The first probable case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been detected in Switzerland, the government said late on Sunday, as the country tightened its entry restrictions to check its spread.

The case relates to a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa around a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter.

Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.

Switzerland has ordered that travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a fight to the country, and must go into quarantine for 10 days on arrival.

The list includes Australia, Denmark, Britain, Czech Republic, South Africa and Israel.

Swiss voters on Sunday backed the government's pandemic response plan by a bigger than expected majority in a referendum, paving the way for the continuation of exceptional measures to stem the rising tide of Covid-19 cases.

Some 62.01% voted in favour of a law passed earlier this year to provide financial aid to people hit by the Covid-19 crisis and laying the foundation for certificates giving proof of Covid-19 vaccination, recovery or a negative test. These are currently required to enter bars, restaurants and certain events.

Reuters

November 29 2021 - 08:44

Omicron variant patients have 'very mild symptoms,' doctor says

A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain among patients said that symptoms of the Omicron variant were so far mild and could be treated at home.

November 29 2021 - 08:40

Vaccination focus and stern travel message from Ramaphosa welcomed

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the country would remain at lockdown level 1 after a recent increase in Covid-19 cases across the country has been met with positive responses.

Andrew Stark, MD Flight Centre Travel Group RSA, said Ramaphosa has taken a great position to open up international travel as soon as possible and to ask those nations that made knee-jerk reactions to the new Covid-19 variant to revert quickly.

“Hopefully that doesn’t fall on deaf ears. What I’m optimistic about is that as quickly as borders were shut to South Africans on Friday morning, that as quickly they open up to South Africans again. Ideally we’ll have corridors. We also need to put pressure on the fact that vaccinated travellers can have a pass when travelling internationally, and unvaccinated passengers don’t.”

During his address to the nation on Sunday night, Ramaphosa slammed some countries for prohibiting travel to and from Southern Africa after the discovery of the Omicron variant.

November 29 2021 - 08:00

‘Panic-driven decisions must end’: Madonsela slams reports calling Omicron ‘SA variant’

Madonsela’s call comes after the new variant was labelled a “SA variant” by international commentators and on social media. The variant was first detected in the country last week.

“It’s clear we need a better communication strategy for the release of information on the discovery of new variants or mutations of the coronavirus.

November 29 2021 - 07:45

Woman held over Australia quarantine hotel fire

Australian police said they expect to charge a woman with arson after she allegedly set fire to the hotel where she and her two children were quarantined.

November 29 2021 - 07:30

Omicron variant detected in more countries as scientists race to find answers

The Omicron coronavirus variant spread around the world on Sunday, with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restriction to try to seal themselves off.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.

"Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection," WHO said. It said understanding the level of severity of Omicron "will take days to several weeks".

The detection of Omicron triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel curbs and financial markets sold-off, fearing the variant could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic reopening after a two-year global pandemic.

In its statement, the WHO said it was working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against Covid-19, including vaccines.

Britain said it will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss the developments.

Dutch health authorities said 13 cases of the variant were found among people on two flights that arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday. Authorities had tested all of the more than 600 passengers on the flights and found 61 coronavirus cases, going on to test those for Omicron.

"This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg," Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters.

Dutch military police said they arrested a married couple who left a hotel where they were in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19, and were attempting to flee the country.

Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" last week by the WHO that is potentially more contagious than previous variants, has now been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Canada and South Africa.

Many countries have imposed travel bans or curbs on Southern Africa to try to stem the spread. Financial markets dived on Friday, and oil prices tumbled.

A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain said on Sunday that symptoms of Omicron were so far mild and could be treated at home.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that unlike with Delta, so far patients have not reported loss of smell or taste and there has been no major drop in oxygen levels with the new variant.

ISRAELI MEASURES

In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced  late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective vaccines are against Omicron.

The top U.S. infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told President Joe Biden on Sunday it will take about two weeks to have more definitive information about the transmissibility and other characteristics of Omicron, the White House said in a statement, adding that Fauci believes existing vaccines "are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of Covid".

Biden will give an update on the new variant and the US response on Monday, the White House said.

In Britain, the government has announced measures including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring mask wearing in some settings.

More countries announced new travel curbs on southern African nations on Sunday, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

South Africa has denounced the measures as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy, saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify coronavirus variants early.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday that his government was considering imposing compulsory Covid-19 shots for people in certain places and activities, and he slammed rich Western countries for what he called their knee-jerk imposition of travel bans.

"The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant," Ramaphosa said. "The only thing (it) ... will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to ... the pandemic."

Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in Covid-19 infections, with some reintroducing restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread.

The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on huge disparities in vaccination rates around the globe. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in poorer countries have received their first Covid-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.

Reuters

November 29 2021 - 07:25

November 29 2021 - 07:00

Where is the new Covid-19 variant most prevalent in SA?

The newly detected Covid-19 variant Omicron is prevalent in Gauteng and spreading to other parts of the country.

That’s according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who addressed the nation on Sunday night.

Ramaphosa said the variant had more mutations than previous strains and was not linked to the Beta and Delta strains which were also previously detected in SA.

He said studies on whether Omicron was transmitted more easily between people and its impact on the vaccines are ongoing.

November 29 2021 - 06:15

JUSTICE MALALA | It is time our leaders lead and make vaccines mandatory

The last time I checked, the job of the president and his cabinet was to lead the country. Yet on too many occasions our “leaders” don’t seem aware they have been given more than adequate powers to lead. Instead of doing so, they hold meetings, consult and then hold press conferences to announce they will consult even more.

Lead? No, that’s not for them.

Nothing illustrates this malaise better than events beginning on Thursday when health minister Joe Phaahla held a press conference and announced a new Covid-19 variant had been detected in SA.

Phaahla was clear: “You can rest assured that as people move in the next coming weeks, this [variant] will be all over.” Now here is the thing.

Phaahla and the government have been warning about a fourth wave and possible Covid-19 variants for months. When new cases started picking up, they knew the inevitable was happening: a fourth wave was here.

November 29 2021 - 06:00

Wave of depression about to land on SA’s battered shores

Psychologists warn the onset of a fourth wave and resulting restrictions are likely to have demoralising affect on people

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