World S.Africa urges vaccines 'without delay' as cases surge
WHO designates new COVID strain Omicron as ‘variant of concern’
Several countries impose travel restrictions as new variant first detected in southern Africa raises global alarm.A WHO advisory panel on Friday said early evidence shows the new B.1.1529 variant, which it dubbed Omicron after a letter in the Greek alphabet, poses an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly transmissible strains.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday urged citizens to get vaccinated as the country battles an unprecedented surge in cases driven by the new Omicron variant.
The number of daily infections rose five-fold in the space of a week, from 2,828 on November 26 to 16,055 last Friday.
About a quarter of tests for coronavirus have been positive, compared to just around two percent of those tested a fortnight ago.
"We are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started," Ramaphosa warned in his weekly newsletter.
World races to contain new Omicron variant
Nations ban travellers from southern Africa, a day after health officials named the new Covid-19 strain.The moves come after the variant was officially named by health officials.
Omicron, detected by South African scientists 10 days ago, "appears to be dominating new infections," he said.
"I call on all South Africans to go out and get vaccinated without delay," he said.
Ramaphosa, whose country is the worst-hit in Africa for Covid, last week hinted at making coronavirus vaccines mandatory.
Despite the rise in infections, fatalities remain relatively low. Just one coronavirus-related death was recorded on Sunday, when 11,125 new infections were diagnosed.
Scientists are keeping a close eye on the new variant to see whether it may be more contagious or virulent, or can side-step existing vaccines.
So far 14.8 million people have been fully vaccinated in South Africa, translating to around a quarter of the country's population. The rate of vaccination is higher among adults.
Resistance to vaccines is not only as old as the republic, but older
That means the country almost certainly can’t rely on soft tools such as education and incentives alone to get sufficient numbers of people vaccinated. The Chinese practiced smallpox inoculation as early as 1500 by inhaling powder made from the crusts of smallpox scabs in order to protect themselves from the disease. That was nearly 300 years before Edward Jenner founded vaccinology in the West in 1796 by taking the fluid from a cowpox blister and scratching it into the skin of a patient.
Children aged from 12 years are eligible for vaccines in South Africa.
With adequate supplies of the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer shots, the government has set a target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by year's end.
Seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the authorities at the weekend opened up pop-up sites offering jabs at shopping malls, bus stations, airports, churches and recreation centres.
Highly populated Gauteng province, which hosts the capital Pretoria and the financial hub, Johannesburg, accounts for most infections.
It is in Gauteng province where the first cases of Omicron were detected last month following a cluster of cases at a university.
Omicron isn't a surprise to advocates who have fought for global vaccine equity .
People in richer countries, even if fully vaccinated, won't be safe until those in poorer nations have the benefit of vaccines, experts have argued.For a year since COVID-19 vaccines first became available, a small but vocal group has warned about the need to protect the most vulnerable around the world.