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Good chance vaccines can beat Omicron variant, says Professor Karim

Existing COVID-19 vaccines are probably effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified Omicron variant, top infectious disease expert Professor Salim Abdool Karim said yesterday.

Existing COVID-19 vaccines are probably effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified Omicron variant, top infectious disease expert Professor Salim Abdool Karim said yesterday.

Published Nov 30, 2021


CAPE TOWN - The fact that Omicron was detected so early by South African scientists demonstrates the success of the investment the country has made in science.

This was among sentiments expressed by the Health Ministry and a panel of scientists at a media briefing on Monday.

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World-renowned epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim said that while studies were still being done, there was a likelihood, based on how other variants have reacted to the available vaccines, that they would work against Omicron.

“Closing the borders has almost no benefit for two reasons. As of Monday, there were already 11 countries reporting cases of Omicron. Trying to isolate South Africa or southern Africa is not really going to help because pretty soon many other countries are going to become avenues of the spread of the virus.

“More importantly, we have an existing five-step strategy that actually does very well in reducing travel transmission risk... that is: by ensuring that only vaccinated people travel; you do symptom screening at boarding; you ensure they have a negative PCR result at boarding; you have a mask during the flight; and, lastly, you get a Covid test on arrival,” Karim said.

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As the disease spreads, Gauteng has been identified as a hotspot.

Gauteng Health Department deputy director-general, Dr Freddy Kgongwana, said the province had an additional 4 000 hospital beds – kept over from the peak of the third wave – above the 18 000 they usually had.

Kgongwana said the department was meeting oxygen supplier Afrox on a weekly basis, and would have enough going into the fourth wave.

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“As we speak, we have a staff complement of 6 000 for the Covid-19 contracted personnel, which ends on March 31 2022 – we have submitted to our principals that we need it to continue into the financial year 2023.

“The attitude that we have been maintaining since the third wave is to constantly monitor our PPE, that we do with supply chain; the security of water; the security of power supply, we are monitoring our generators; the security of waste management and laundry services. We are constantly monitoring those key issues, because they are very important in making sure our experts and staff in the forefront are well supported,” Kgongwana said.

Clinical doctor, Dr Unben Pillay, said GPs were generally reporting mild cases in private practice.

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He said doctors had been made aware over the past few days on how to deal with another influx of positive cases.

“This is so that we are aware of what needs to happen in terms of management and treatment with the fourth wave.

“Overall, our cases that we are seeing are positive cases, in vaccinated and unvaccinated cases. The vaccinated patients we are managing at home. We are managing them symptomatically. They tend to do much better,” Dr Pillay said.

Meanwhile, Cape Town Tourism chief executive officer Enver Duminy said it was critical at this stage that the domestic market be promoted.

“We also need to make sure that when we do promote and convert the domestic tourists, we understand the financial pressure and concern around safety. So we are currently promoting pocket friendly travel and safe travel by ensuring that all products in Cape Town adhere to strict safety protocols. I’m still confident in our domestic market.”

MEC for finance and economic opportunities, David Maynier, said: “During this time of uncertainty, our economy needs as much information as possible, so the best possible decisions can be made based on reliable and accurate information. That is why I will also convene meetings with business so that we can share what we know and so that we can find out how we can help them during this time.”

Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Jacques Moolman said the private sector, by its very nature, is flexible and will react in any way it can to survive.

“But it has already made significant changes, providing a public safety regime for its customers. It is questionable how and what it can do further in the tourism and hospitality sector.”

Meanwhile, Eskom said there remains a shortage of generation capacity, another factor that can cause additional strain to businesses.

“There remains a shortage of generation capacity until such time that new capacity can be built and brought online,” it said.

Cape Times

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