South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron version. Now the data out of South Africa can serve as a warning of what we are facing.
Running news: South Africa reported 11,535 new cases on Thursday, with 22.4% testing positive – an average of about 300 new cases, compared with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The nation’s top public health officials expect the rapid growth to continue as Omron becomes increasingly the dominant variant.
- Meanwhile, preliminary evidence from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) suggests that people who were previously infected with COVID-19 are three times more vulnerable to reinfection from Omicron than prior strains. times more susceptible.
- “We believe that previous infection does not provide protection against omicrons,” said Anne von Gottberg, who heads NICD’s respiratory diseases laboratory. “We believe that the number of cases will increase rapidly in all the provinces of the country. We believe that vaccines will still protect against serious disease.”
- The NICD study did not examine the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection. Experts worry that mutations in the high number of omicrons could make vaccines significantly less effective.
What will happen next: Experts say we’ll soon know how the infectious Omicron compares to previous strains, but it will take longer to determine whether it causes more severe disease.
zoom in: Stores and restaurants in Johannesburg are crowded, BBC’s Pumza Fihlani reports, and President Cyril Ramaphosa is opposing the idea of a new lockdown, instead stressing the need to accelerate vaccinations.
- Between 24% and 41% of South African adults are currently vaccinated in the country – among the highest rates in Africa, but far behind many wealthy countries. Supply has long been a major constraint, but Ramaphosa is now focused on reducing vaccine hesitation.
- In a televised address on Sunday, he announced a “consultation” on potentially “making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations”.
- Vaccination rates in South Africa had been falling for several weeks, but have been on an upward trend since news of the new version emerged.
zoom out: The omicron threat has convinced countries to pursue policies to encourage or mandate vaccination.
- The German government on Thursday announced a “lockdown without vaccinations” – banning all businesses except essential ones such as grocery stores and pharmacies – and said a nationwide vaccine mandate could take effect in February 2022.
- Greece plans to give residents over 60 a shot or pay a monthly fine.
big picture: Many rich-world leaders, President Biden among them, are dismissing the new lockdown but pushing booster shots, rapid tests and masks.
Omicron’s apparent effect As of today travel is on, restrictions continue to be announced (mostly on southern Africa) and there will be tourists from around the world reconsidering their plans.
- Even beyond COVID-19, border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease – whether or not public health experts agree they are effective, writes Nerdshala’ Brian Walsh.
Noteworthy: It emerged on Tuesday that an Omicron case had been detected in the Netherlands on 19 November, days before South African scientists announced the detection of the variant.
go in: Omicron rolls out holiday travel plans