Encouraging news from South Africa.
The African country announced on Thursday that the fourth wave of coronavirus, driven by the omicron variant, “may have reached its peak” without a significant increase in hospitalizations and deaths, according to a government statement.
The news was accompanied by the lifting of several restrictions, including the end of the night curfew imposed for 21 months.
The South African Health Department reported nearly 90,000 cases in the week ending December 25, a decrease of nearly 30% compared to the 128,000 infections recorded the previous week.
Ómicron was first detected in South Africa last November. The province of Gauteng, the most populated in the country, became the epicenter of the new variant that drives records of infections around the world.
However, since last December 17, cases have dropped rapidly in this country in almost all provinces.
“While the omicron variant is highly contagious, there have been lower rates of hospitalizations and deaths than in previous waves. This implies that the country has the capacity to admit patients even for routine health services, ”the government statement said.
“The increase in the number of deaths in all provinces has been marginal,” added the document.
Since the variant was detected in South Africa, the world has been attentive to the evolution of cases in this country, looking for clues about omicron behavior.
Preliminary South African studies that suggested that this variant could be less severe have been replicated with similar conclusions in countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark.
Now, after the sharp fall in infections, several countries expect to see a similar behavior, although the South African example is difficult to extrapolate.
South Africa has a younger average age of population and has high levels of immunity from both vaccination and previous exposure to the virus.
In addition, it is the summer season in the southern hemisphere, which makes it easier to develop outdoor activities that reduce the efficiency of transmission of the virus.
End of restrictions
Encouraging South African data has prompted authorities to remove restrictions imposed since March 2020.
Among them, the end of the veto on the movement of people between midnight and 4:00 am. Businesses will also regain their permission to sell alcohol under their regular licenses, rather than having to close at 11:00 pm.
Masks are still mandatory and the public is still urged to get vaccinated and follow public health protocols.
Meetings remain limited to 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 outdoors or 50% of the venue’s capacity to allow for social distancing.
The authorities will continue monitoring the situation and will make adjustments if necessary or increases hospital pressure.
South Africa has registered almost 3.5 million cases of covid-19 and more than 90,000 deaths during the pandemic, more than any other country in Africa.
Vaccination levels in this country have not been as high as in other resource-rich countries around the world, although they have improved in recent weeks. More than 15.6 million people have been fully inoculated out of a total population of 59 million inhabitants.
Remember in the rest of the world
The South African case, for the moment, contrasts with that of the rest of the world, where omicron provokes record levels of contagion daily in countries like the United States, United Kingdom and France.
However, although hospital pressure is also increasing, it is not doing so at the same rate as in previous waves, thanks in large part to high rates of the vaccinated population.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of a “tsunami” of infections driven by the delta and omicron variants that could saturate health systems.
Although the first studies point to the lesser severity of omicron, its high contagion capacity and its greater probability of reinfection make many people fall ill at the same time, which continues to be a threat to hospitals and primary care centers.
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