Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has called for calm and for people to vaccinate en mass to mitigate the severity of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has called for calm and for people to vaccinate en mass to mitigate the severity of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 Omicron variant fear grips nation ahead of festive season

By Rapula Moatshe Time of article published Dec 6, 2021

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Pretoria - There are increasing fears that millions of holidaymakers from Gauteng preparing to go home for festive breaks could be carriers of the new Omicron variant to other provinces.

In a recent television interview, Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba said: “If Gauteng spikes the way it is right now, I become the MEC who gets most worried. If you go on the N1 right now and the toll gate, the cars are packed; people are coming back home. They work in Gauteng; they stay in this province. So we can’t separate what is happening in Gauteng with what is happening in Limpopo.”

Last week Gauteng Premier David Makhura warned about possible virus spikes as many people would soon be heading to other provinces.

“We know that during the festive season millions of people leave our province for other provinces. We don’t want people to be carrying this variant to other provinces, especially those who are not vaccinated,” he said.

Makhura said the plan was to vaccinate an additional 1.5 million people in the province before the festive breaks.

To date, there were at least 4.5 million people who were given a single vaccine dose, while 3.7 million were fully vaccinated.

“We still have 8 million who are not vaccinated. Those are a problem for you and I. Vaccination is a powerful tool to defeat the Omicron variant,” he said.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla called for calm and for people to vaccinate en mass to mitigate the severity of the virus as the Omicron variant continued to wreak havoc.

He also warned that the country was starting to enter into the fourth wave with the new variant'’s footprint now in other provinces since its emergence in Tshwane two weeks ago.

“Every area in the country is starting to register high levels of infections.”

Increased infections have been reported in the North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, according to Dr Michelle Groome, head of the Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response at National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Groome said a small increase of cases was experienced in Limpopo, especially in Vhembe, Capricorn and Waterberg, areas bordering on the City of Tshwane.

Rapid increases of cases were recorded in Ehlanzeni and Ekangala in Mpumalanga.

Groome said both the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were yet to record increases in hospitalisation cases.

The worrying factor was that there has been increased hospital admissions of children, especially under age 4.

“We need additional data on disease severity, transmissibility and immune escape of the Omicron variant,” she said.

Dr Ntsakisi Maluleke, who shared data about the state of readiness in Gauteng, said there has been a 19% increase in the Covid test positivity rate and early indication of increased infection and hospitalisation among younger age groups and pregnant women.

“We are closely monitoring infection rates and hospitalisation and implementing intensified Covid-19 screening and testing, contact training and effective clinical governance,” Maluleke said.

She said it was important for those who are not vaccinated to get their jabs to protect themselves from severe illness, hospitalisation or death.

Ramphelane Morewane, primary health care acting deputy director-general at the national Department of Health, said the department had held a two-day workshop with all the nine provinces, planning for the fourth wave.

“The department gave instructions to the provinces to capture the lessons learnt from the third wave, the challenges and the priorities of the fourth wave,” he said.

Morewane said that the oxygen task team meets every week to prepare for the fourth wave and ensure readiness and no disruption to the supply.

“We are paying special attention to the paediatric patients as their numbers are increasing for under 5 years old,” he said.

An ICU sister, who works at a private hospital and wants to remain anonymous for ethical reasons, said she was dreading the fourth wave of Covid-19.

“If it is anything like the previous three, we are in for a very difficult time. We just managed to take a bit of a breather after the third wave, now this.

“I can assure everyone that our hospital beds were full with each of the other waves. I sometimes wish people could just get a glimpse of how things go here to realise that they must vaccinate.

“I am dreading the next few weeks and I’m anxious, as we have no idea at all how severe it will be. I am not dreading doing my work and saving patients; I dread the anguish and hardships of the families of those who do not make it.

“And to see people dying remains a daunting experience, no matter how long you work here. I humbly ask those not vaccinated yet, please do so soon. Even if it is just to give yourself a fighting chance.”

Tshepiso Mbiba from Hammanskraal also urged people to get vaccinated: “If you were vaccinated and now you test positive, the vaccine will neutralise the virus so it won’t be as bad as to those who are not vaccinated.”

However, another Tshwane resident, Enerst Hlongwane, said: “This thing is some kind of population control and all this nasty stuff that people above us want to achieve.

“Vaccines are supposed to reduce death, but people who have vaccinated are getting sick and dying from it; so I really don’t fear Covid, but yet fear for my child’s future, because with the past two years already disrupted, what is going to happen next year?”

Pretoria News

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