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Ramaphosa plays it cool, keeps SA on level 1 despite international hysteria over Omicron Covid-19 variant

Cape Town International Airport has been inundated with stranded passengers trying to catch flights abroad, following the travel bans imposed against South Africa. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town International Airport has been inundated with stranded passengers trying to catch flights abroad, following the travel bans imposed against South Africa. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Nov 29, 2021

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Cape Town - Despite international hysteria over the newly-discovered Omicron Covid-19 variant, President Cyril Ramaphosa insisted that South Africa would remain on lockdown level 1, while encouraging the unvaccinated to get jabbed ahead of an expected fourth wave.

On Saturday, passengers were left stranded at Cape Town International Airport as several countries rushed to isolate travellers from southern Africa through suspension, or cancellation of flights following the discovery of the new variant.

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Ramaphosa’s surprise announcement last night followed meetings with the Coronavirus Command Council, the president’s Co-ordinating Council and the Cabinet.

Ramaphosa said the decision to not put in place stricter measures was that previously vaccines were not widely available and fewer people had been vaccinated.

“This is no longer the case,” said Ramaphosa.

A curfew from 12am-4am will remain, with gatherings with 750 people indoors and 2 000 people outdoors permitted.

No more than 100 people will be permitted at funerals and night vigils.

Mask wearing remains compulsory and a criminal offence should this be disregarded.

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The sale of alcohol is permitted.

Ramaphosa said the situation will be reviewed after one week to determine whether the existing measures are adequate or should be amended.

The country will implement a national resurgence plan to ensure hospitals are made ready for the fourth wave.

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“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of southern African countries including our own following the identification of the Omicron variant.

“These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,” said Ramaphosa.

On Sunday, the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa called for borders to remain open and for countries to follow science and International Health Regulations, stating that travel restrictions may play a role in reducing the spread of Covid-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

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“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) confirmed that its airports are open and operational despite a number of international flight suspensions and cancellations by international airlines.

“Passengers who are impacted by these flight suspensions or cancellations are urged to contact their respective airline for further information. It is best to do so prior to passengers making their way to the airport,” said ACSA on its social media platforms.

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said the Omicron variant is of concern, however, no cases have been detected in the province as yet.

“We have seen an increase in cases in recent days in certain areas, but the genomic make-up of these cases have not yet been confirmed. Given the high transmissibility of this variant, we strongly encourage all eligible persons who are not yet vaccinated to do so, as it is their best defence against severe illness and even death.

“Although we have seen a slight increase in cases, the absolute numbers are low and admissions remain low, as has been for the past few weeks,” said Van der Heever.

In a joint statement released, the Western Cape government said it had detailed plans in place for the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.

Premier Alan Winde said the extensive travel bans on South Africa will be devastating for the provincial economy reliant on international travellers during its peak season and called on Ramaphosa to announce an emergency financial support package for the sector.

Cape Town Tourism (CTT) CEO Enver Duminy said the December 2020 lockdown resulted in a financial loss of R2 billion to CTT members, with members reporting a total of 11 583 jobs lost.

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