(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s government said it would be premature to reimpose stringent curbs following the emergence of a new coronavirus strain because its impact still needs to be properly assessed.
The country will remain on virus alert level 1, the lowest, with alcohol bans, curfew hours and other measures to be reviewed in a week’s time, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday in a televised address following a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council.
While the new mutation is present in all nine provinces and its emergence has coincided with a spike in new cases, “we are still not sure how exactly it will behave going forward,” Ramaphosa said. We have taken “a decision not to take further restrictions at this stage,” he said.
South African scientists last week identified the new variant, known as omicron, setting off alarm bells around the world and sending financial markets into a tailspin. The European Union, U.S. and other countries followed the U.K. in announcing travel bans on South Africa and its neighbors, dealing yet another flow to their beleaguered tourism industries ahead of the year-end holiday season.
Read more: South Africa Punished for ‘Wrong Reasons’ Over Covid Variant
Ramaphosa described the bans as “completely unjustified,” and discriminatory, and said they will further damage affected countries’ economies.
“We call on countries that have implemented travel bans to immediately lift these restrictions,” which are not informed by science, and for wealthy nations to support developing ones to access vaccines, he said.
See the full speech here.
Scientists say the new strain carries a high number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a key role in the virus’s entry into cells in the body. Labs in Europe, the U.S. and Africa are preparing for tests to see how the variant is likely to behave in people who’ve been vaccinated or previously infected. The mutation has already been detected in the Netherlands, Germany, the U.K. and several other countries.
South Africa has had more than 2.96 million confirmed coronavirus infections, the most on the continent, with 2,858 new cases reported on Saturday, and the test positivity rate has reached 9.8%. Only 36% of South African adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
“If cases continue to climb, we can expect to enter a fourth wave of infections within the next few weeks, if not sooner,” Ramaphosa said. “We know enough about the variant to know what we need to do to reduce transmission and to protect ourselves against severe disease and death.”
The president urged all people to get their vaccines, saying they did work and saved lives. The option of making vaccines compulsory in some areas and for those engaged in some activities is being evaluated, he said.
“I would like us to consider this matter, very seriously,” Ramaphosa said. “We still have too many people who are expressing doubt and who are resisting getting vaccinated.”
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