Djokovic Says He Will Not Play US Open Because Of Lack Of Covid Vaccination

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Former men’s world number one Novak Djokovic said he will not play in the US Open which begins on Monday as Covid protocols mean he cannot travel to the United States.

It is the second Grand Slam the 35-year-old Serb will miss due to not being vaccinated as he was deported prior to the Australian Open earlier this year.

“Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” tweeted Djokovic, a three-time US Open champion.

Djokovic’s announcement, which was widely anticipated, came hours before the draw for the final slam of the season.

Tennis legend John McEnroe has blasted the Djokovic ban as a “joke”

“At this point, in the pandemic, we’re two and a half years in, I think people in all parts of the world know more about it, and the idea that he can’t travel here to play, to me is a joke,” said McEnroe.

Ironically, during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Djokovic was allowed to compete at New York where he was champion in 2011, 2015 and 2018.

He has not played since securing a seventh Wimbledon title last month, a victory which took him to 21 Grand Slam victories, one short of Rafael Nadal’s record of 22.

Only last month, Djokovic said he was “preparing to play” in the US Open where a traumatic defeat in last year’s final at the hands of Daniil Medvedev dashed his hopes of a Grand Slam of the four majors.

Djokovic signed off his tweet saying he hoped to be back soon.

“Good luck to my fellow players! I’ll keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again.

“See you soon tennis world!”

Biden’s COVID-19 Advisor Anthony Fauci To Step Down

A combo image showing Anthony Fauci and Joe Biden

 

President Joe Biden’s Covid advisor Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert who became the face of the country’s fight against the pandemic, announced Monday that he will step down in December.

Fauci said in a statement he would be leaving both his position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and that of chief medical advisor to Biden — though he added: “I am not retiring.”

The 81-year-old, who previously disclosed plans to leave by the end of Biden’s current term, announced he would go in December to “pursue the next chapter of my career.”

Biden extended his “deepest thanks” to Fauci in a White House statement.

“Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved,” the president said, adding that the country is “is stronger, more resilient, and healthier because of him.”

READ ALSO: US Governor Visits Taiwan After China Drills

Fauci has helmed the United States’ response to infectious disease outbreaks since the 1980s, from HIV/AIDS to Covid-19, and has served under seven presidents.

When Covid first spread globally from China in 2020, he became a trusted source of reliable information, reassuring the public with his calm and professorial demeanor during frequent media appearances.

But his honest takes on America’s early failures to get to grips with the virus brought Fauci into conflict with former president Donald Trump, and turned the physician-scientist into a hated figure for some on the right.

Fauci now lives with security protection after his family received death threats and harassment.

Biden said that after winning the 2020 election, as he was trying to build a team to lead the Covid-19 response, Fauci was “one of my first calls.”

“In that role, I’ve been able to call him at any hour of the day for his advice as we’ve tackled this once-in-a-generation pandemic,” the president stated.

AFP

Biden’s COVID Symptoms ‘Continue To Improve’ – White House Doctor

In this file photo, US President Joe Biden adjusts his mask as he attends the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity at the Izumi Garden Gallery in Tokyo on May 23, 2022. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President Joe Biden’s Covid symptoms “continue to improve” and he is tolerating treatment well, his White House physician said Saturday, two days after the 79-year-old tested positive for the virus.

Biden, who is isolating at the White House, completed a second full day of Paxlovid on Friday night, his doctor Kevin O’Connor wrote in a memorandum to the White House press secretary.

The US leader continues to experience a sore throat, runny nose, cough, and body aches, but they are “less troublesome,” O’Connor said.

And his pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature “remain entirely normal.” His oxygen saturation “continues to be excellent on room air,” while his lungs are “clear,” according to O’Connor.

He wrote that Biden will continue to take Paxlovid, as well as using Tylenol and an inhaler for his cough “as needed.” The president “is experiencing no shortness of breath at all,” O’Connor added.

He said that primary sequencing results showed Biden most likely had contracted the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which is currently fueling a new Covid wave in the United States.

While Biden is reported to be in good general health, as the oldest US president ever elected his age heightens concern over the impact of Covid.

The White House has emphasized since Biden’s diagnosis that the president was fully vaccinated and twice boosted.

O’Connor reiterated that the president will keep isolating, in accordance with guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that his team will continue monitoring him “closely.”

Covid Vaccines Saved 20 Million Lives In First Year – Study

In this photo taken on August 16, 2021, a health official holds a vaccine tube and a syringe as Nigeria commences the second phase of COVID-19 vaccination. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.
In this file photo taken on August 16, 2021, a health official holds a vaccine tube and a syringe as Nigeria commences the second phase of COVID-19 vaccination. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

Covid vaccines prevented nearly 20 million deaths in the first year after they were introduced, according to the first large modelling study on the topic released Friday.

The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, is based on data from 185 countries and territories collected from December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021.

It is the first attempt to estimate the number of deaths prevented directly and indirectly as a result of Covid-19 vaccinations.

It found that 19.8 million deaths were prevented out of a potential 31.4 million deaths that would have occurred if no vaccines were available.

It was a 63 percent reduction, the study found.

The study used official figures — or estimates when official data was not available — for deaths from Covid, as well as total excess deaths from each country.

Excess mortality is the difference between the total number of people who died from all causes and the number of deaths expected based on past data.

These analyses were compared with a hypothetical alternative scenario in which no vaccine was administered.

The model accounted for variation in vaccination rates across countries, as well as differences in vaccine effectiveness based on the types of vaccines known to have been primarily used in each country.

China was not included in the study because of its large population and strict containment measures, which would have skewed the results, it said.

The study found that high- and middle-income countries accounted for the largest number of deaths averted, 12.2 million out of 19.8 million, reflecting inequalities in access to vaccines worldwide.

Nearly 600,000 additional deaths could have been prevented if the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of vaccinating 40 percent of each country’s population by the end of 2021 had been met, it concluded.

READ ALSO: Pfizer Sets Sights On Elimination Of Blinding Disease Trachoma By 2030

“Millions of lives have probably been saved by making vaccines available to people around the world,” said lead study author Oliver Watson of Imperial College London.

“We could have done more,” he said.

Covid has officially killed more than 6.3 million people globally, according to the WHO.

But the organisation said last month the real number could be as high as 15 million when all direct and indirect causes are accounted for.

The figures are extremely sensitive due to how they reflect on the handling of the crisis by authorities around the world.

The virus is on the rise again in some places, including in Europe, which is seeing a warm-weather resurgence blamed in part on Omicron subvariants.

AFP

Obama Tests Positive For COVID-19

Former US President Barack Obama

 

Barack Obama has tested positive for a mild case of Covid-19, the former US president said on his Twitter account Sunday.

“I’ve had a scratchy throat for a couple of days, but am feeling fine otherwise,” Obama tweeted, adding that his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, has so far tested negative.

“Michelle and I are grateful to be vaccinated and boosted,” he wrote.

Obama, plus fellow former presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton — and the former first ladies — appeared together in a one-minute video released last March, endorsing the US vaccination campaign and sharing what they missed about pre-pandemic life.

“This vaccine means hope,” Obama said in the video. “It will protect you and those you love from this dangerous and deadly disease.”

In August, Obama scaled back his 60th birthday celebrations due to the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Conservative political opponents had lashed out at the former president for planning to host an outdoor party — in which attendees were required to be vaccinated — that had been expected to draw hundreds of guests after Democrats had criticized Donald Trump’s administration for organizing several maskless events at the White House.

Obama reiterated his support for the vaccine in his tweet Sunday, saying his own positive test was “a reminder to get vaccinated if you haven’t already, even as cases go down.”

Despite a vocal anti-vaccination constituency in the country, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say more than 80 percent of all people ages five and older in the United States have had at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose.

US daily case counts have fallen off sharply, according to the (CDC), with an average of around 35,000 cases per day in mid-March compared to a peak of an average of 810,000 cases per day in mid-January.

USAID Donates $10.6m In COVID-19 Assistance To Nigeria

USAID, Adamawa
USAID logo.

 

On March 1, 2022, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced an additional $10.6 million in development assistance to continue support for the goals outlined in a 2021 bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Nigerian governments.

Most of the new funding will finance boosting COVID-19 vaccination efforts to reach targets of 600,000 people a day.

The funds will also support integrating COVID-19 vaccinations into routine immunization and primary health care systems, state-level data collection and analytics, health worker training, and expansion of vaccination access points at the community level.

READ ALSO: [International Women’s Day 2022] Nigerian Veronica Aina Is British High Commissioner For A Day

“Given the significant progress Nigeria has made, we are pleased to provide more funds to improve COVID-19 vaccine delivery services,” USAID Mission Director, Anne Patterson, said in a statement.

“These new funds will deepen our support for all levels of government to meet their vaccination targets.”

This funding increases the total U.S. assistance to the Nigerian people to $179 million under the five-year $2.1 billion Development Objectives Assistance Agreement signed between USAID and the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning as affirmed by the U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken during his visit to Nigeria in November 2021.

COVID-19: Virus-Hit Hong Kong Considers Lockdown As Bodies Pile Up

Construction workers put the final touches to units at a temporary isolation facility to house Covid-19 patients at Tsing Yi in Hong Kong on February 28, 2022, as the crowded Chinese financial hub is in the throes of its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak. Peter PARKS / AFP

 

Hong Kong may impose a China-style hard lockdown that confines people to their homes, authorities signalled Monday, with the city’s zero-Covid strategy in tatters and bodies piling up in hospitals.

Two years of strict zero-Covid policies kept the coronavirus largely bay but a breakthrough of the highly transmissible Omicron variant exposed how little authorities had done to prepare for a mass outbreak.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam previously ruled out a citywide lockdown and instead has ordered all 7.4 million residents to be tested in March.

But in a U-turn, health secretary Sophia Chan confirmed on Monday that it was still an option.

Asked by a presenter at Commercial Radio whether a lockdown was still ruled out she replied: “No. We are still discussing.”

“From a public health perspective, to bring out the best effect of compulsory universal testing, we need to reduce people’s movements to some extent,” she added.

Chan’s comments came a day after Li Dachuan, a senior mainland official involved in a joint taskforce with Hong Kong authorities, described a lockdown as “the most ideal and best approach to achieve the best effect of universal tests”.

 Bodies In Hospital 

The revelation adds fresh uncertainty and anxiety for residents and businesses in a city gripped by the kind of chaos that was more familiar at the start of the pandemic.

Hong Kong has now recorded 193,000 cases and 636 deaths in the current wave since December 31.

That compares to just 12,000 infections and 205 deaths for the whole of the rest of the pandemic. Hospitals have been stretched to breaking point for weeks and on Sunday officials revealed bodies are piling up at hospitals because mortuaries are full.

“At this moment, we face a problem of transportation of dead bodies from hospital to public mortuary,” Hospital Authority chief manager Lau Ka-hin told reporters.
“That’s why there are some bodies who were initially planned to be transported to public mortuary, but stayed in hospital.”

High Mortality Rate 

Hong Kong’s seven-day average death rate is currently running at around eight per one million people.

That compares with five per million for the United States, 1.80 for Britain and 1.36 for Singapore which, like Hong Kong, initially opted for zero-Covid but shifted more recently to a mitigation strategy and reopening to the wider world.
Officials have revealed that 91 percent of those who have died in the current wave were not fully vaccinated.

The vast majority of the dead — 92 percent — are people aged 60 or above with the median age 84 years old as the virus rips through care homes in the densely populated city.

Despite ample supplies Hong Kong had a dismal vaccination rate among over-70s before Omicron struck.

China is now increasingly calling the shots on Hong Kong’s response with the joint taskforce operating out of the neighbouring city of Shenzhen.

Mainland crews are working on constructing a series of temporary hospitals and isolation wards for the infected, although the current caseload far outstrips supply.

Among those advising the government is Liang Wannian, a senior mainland official that the South China Morning Post reported was arriving in Hong Kong on Monday.

Liang was a key architect of the successful two-month long lockdown in Wuhan where the coronavirus first emerged, a strategy China has continued to deploy in other cities as soon as cases are detected.

Wuhan’s official toll was 53,000 cases and it took two months to suppress with a full lockdown.

Hong Kong has recorded that many cases in just two days and is also battling a much more infectious variant.

China Helps Virus-Ravaged Hong Kong Build Isolation Units

A makeshift camp set up for Covid-19 patients due to limited space inside is pictured outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on February 18, 2022, as the city faces its worst coronavirus wave to date.
Peter PARKS / AFP

 

Construction crews from mainland China were helping Hong Kong build two temporary isolation facilities to house thousands of coronavirus patients on Sunday as a senior official declared the city “in full combat mode”.

The crowded Chinese financial hub is in the throes of its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak, registering thousands of confirmed cases a day as hospitals reach breaking point.

A strict zero-Covid policy like China uses kept infections at bay for two years but left the city cut off internationally.

And when the highly transmissible Omicron variant broke through, authorities were caught flat-footed with a dangerously under-vaccinated elderly population and few plans in place to deal with a mass outbreak.

Late Saturday city leader Carrie Lam announced that China State Construction International Holdings, the largest state-owned constructor in Hong Kong, would start work on two temporary isolation facilities to provide 9,500 extra beds.

The units will be located at Penny’s Bay, which already hosts a quarantine camp, and in Kai Tak where the city’s old airport once stood.

Lam also announced that three hotels would be used to create an additional 20,000 beds.

Chief Secretary John Lee, Hong Kong’s number two official, wrote on his official blog on Sunday that the city’s government was in “full combat mode”.

“With our motherland’s strong support, we will definitely win the battle,” Lee wrote.

The sudden flurry of activity came after Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered Hong Kong to make tackling the outbreak its “overriding mission” in comments that were seen as something of a rebuke to the city’s leadership.

It is not yet clear when the new facilities will be ready and whether they will be enough given Hong Kong’s spiralling caseload.

Under China’s direction, Hong Kong is sticking to a policy of trying to isolate everyone who tests positive for the coronavirus and has rejected calls to shift to a strategy of living with Covid.

Over the last few days officials have announced around 6,000 confirmed cases daily with a similar number of “preliminary positives” that still need to be certified.

About 22,000 cases have been recorded since the current outbreak hit last month compared to just 12,000 in the two years before that.

Some hospitals have had to house patients on gurneys outdoors in grim winter conditions while thousands are still waiting at home in the city’s notoriously small apartments with positive test results.

Ben Cowling, a coronavirus expert at the University of Hong Kong, said isolation facilities would be useful but increasing hospital beds must be a priority.

“New cases needing admission will continue to accumulate faster than beds are freed up, and delays to admission will get longer and longer,” Cowling wrote on Twitter.

“Construction of isolation facilities for mild/asymptomatic cases will be useful for people that can’t isolate at home… but increasing hospital beds and ICU beds must be a priority.”

Lam announced plans on Friday to test Hong Kong’s entire 7.5 million population by some point in March, when modellers predict the daily caseload could reach 28,000.

She has ruled out the kind of hard lockdown that China has used to stamp out smaller outbreaks.

Covax Delivers One Billionth COVID-19 Vaccine Dose

In this file photo, a healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a person at a drive-thru site in Tropical Park on December 16, 2021, in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Covax scheme aimed at equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines hit a “key milestone” Saturday when it delivered its one billionth dose, one of its key backers said.

The Covax facility was set up in 2020 by the World Health Organization, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ensure that poorer countries can access the vaccines needed to battle the pandemic.

“Covax has delivered its first billionth dose of Covid-19 vaccines to 144 countries & territories across the world,” Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley tweeted.

“It’s a key milestone in the largest and most rapid global vaccine rollout in history.”

READ ALSO: India Begins Booster Campaign As Omicron Cases Soar

Berkley said that when the plane carrying the shipment with the one billionth dose had touched down in Kigali, Rwanda Saturday evening, “I felt proud but also humbled knowing how far we have to go to protect everyone and solve vaccine inequity”.

Covax hit the one-billionth mark less than a year after delivering its first vaccine dose late last February — to Ghana.

All countries have been permitted to order doses through the mechanism, but lower-income countries have received the jabs free of charge.

Berkley said in a statement Saturday that he was “proud that nearly 90 percent of the first billion doses Covax has delivered have been full-funded doses sent to the low and lower-middle countries”.

Omicron Could ‘Unravel’ Progress 

But while reaching that one-billion milestone is impressive, Covax has fallen far short of its initial objective of delivering two billion doses by the end of 2021.

That is because it has been forced to compete with rich countries willing to pay a high price and hoarding doses.

In a speech on Thursday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that while more than 9.4 billion vaccine doses had been administered around the world, more than 85 percent of people in Africa have yet to receive a single dose.

Health experts warn that allowing Covid to spread unabated in some places dramatically increases the chance of new, more dangerous variants emerging.

WHO said late last month that nearly half of its 194 member states had missed its target of vaccinating 40 percent of their population by the end of 2021.

It has called for a redoubling of efforts to ensure all countries manage to hit its second target, of vaccinating 70 percent of their populations, by mid-2022.

But experts warn that the current imbalance risks deepening further as many countries now rush to roll out additional doses to respond to the fast-spreading coronavirus variant Omicron.

“We cannot afford to let Omicron and the increased demand for boosters unravel the progress we’ve made,” Berkley tweeted, urging the world to “work together to #breakCovid now”.

“If the world unites to ensure adults in lower-income countries are immunised at levels achieved in high-income countries,” he said, “between 940,000 and 1.27 million deaths could be prevented in the next year.”

AFP

COVID-Hit Arsenal Ask For Postponement Of Tottenham Game

File photo: Arsenal’s French striker Alexandre Lacazette (L) celebrates with teammates after he scores his team’s opening goal during the English League Cup third round football match between Arsenal and AFC Wimbledon at the Emirates Stadium in London on September 22, 2021. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Arsenal said on Friday they had asked the Premier League to postpone their north London derby at Tottenham Hotspur this weekend due to a combination of coronavirus cases, injuries, and players at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

Martin Odegaard missed Thursday’s goalless League Cup semi-final first-leg draw at Liverpool due to Covid-19, with Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu ruled out through injury.

Cedric Soares and Bukayo Saka suffered injuries at Anfield in a match where Granit Xhaka was sent off.

Arsenal were already without Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to their AFCON commitments.

“We can confirm we have made an application to the Premier League for the postponement of Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur,” said an Arsenal statement.

“We have reluctantly taken this step but we have many players currently unavailable across our squad as a result of Covid, injuries, and players away with their countries at AFCON.”

READ ALSO: Toothless Liverpool Held By 10-Man Arsenal In League Cup Semi

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, speaking earlier on Friday, was uncertain about whether the match would go ahead.

“I don’t know, it’s difficult to say that with total honesty without assessing our players,” he said when asked if he would like the game to be called off.

“What is today very unlikely, tomorrow is likely to happen. It’s gone the other way for us when we were ready to play a match and it was cancelled twice because the other team had issues so it can go both ways. But our intention is always to play.”

Fifth-placed Arsenal are two points ahead of Tottenham, but Spurs have two games in hand.

Burnley’s match against Leicester on Saturday had already been postponed, with the Clarets lacking sufficient players due to Covid cases and injuries.

AFP

Botswana President Tests Positive For COVID-19

This file photo taken on November 1, 2019, shows the President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, delivering his speech after being sworn in as the 5th President of the country in Gaborone. Monirul Bhuiyan / AFP

 

President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, which with South Africa was the first country to detect the Omicron variant of coronavirus, is isolating after testing positive for Covid, the government said on Monday.

“The president does not have any symptoms and will continue to receive close medical monitoring by his medical doctors,” it said in a statement, adding that the test had been carried out as a matter of routine.

Vice President Slumber Tsogwane will replace him until further notice, the statement said.

READ ALSO: South Africa Lifts Curfew As Omicron Wave Subsides

On November 25, South African scientists said that cases of a new Covid-19 variant, later called Omicron, had been detected nationally and in neighbouring Botswana.

Omicron is highly contagious, although there are also signs that it is less likely to cause severe illness compared with previous variants, researchers have said.

Last week, South Africa lifted a nightly curfew that had been in place for 21 months, saying that its latest wave of infections had peaked without a surge in deaths or hospitalisations.

Botswana has recently launched booster jabs for people who have already been vaccinated and lowered the age of inoculation to 12.

A diamond-rich country the size of France, Botswana has a reputation for political stability and the richness of its wildlife.

Masisi, 60, first took office as president in 2018, taking over from Ian Khama, who stepped down after two terms in office. He was re-elected in 2019.

AFP

South Africa Lifts Curfew As Omicron Wave Subsides

File photo: A hospital worker puts on gloves as part of her Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the COVID-19 ward at the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town, on July 2, 2020. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

 

South Africa, where the Omicron variant was detected last month, says its latest coronavirus wave has peaked without a surge in deaths or hospitalisations, enabling the country to lift a nightly curfew for the first time in 21 months.

The Omicron variant emerged in November to become the pandemic’s dominant variant, driving new cases at a record rate around the world.

“According to experts, Omicron has reached the peak, …with clinical manifestations that have not caused any alarm in the hospital situation,” Mondli Gungubele, a minister in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office, said on Friday.

“Based on the experts, the conditions do allow that we lift the curfew,” he told a news conference, spelling out a move that the presidency announced the previous evening.

Calls by the hospitality sector for the midnight to 4 am curfew to be lifted had been mounting ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebrations, with restaurant and bar owners launching an online petition to lobby Ramaphosa.

Many countries outside Africa are tightening restrictions to battle a surge in infections.

The minister cautioned “we will monitor the situation on an hour-by-hour basis” and if need be, it would be reinstated, adding “I hope it never comes back.”

Gungubele said the government of Africa’s most advanced but battered economy took the action to try “balance between livelihoods and saving lives.”

“Businesses are suffering,” he said.

READ ALSO: France To Ease COVID-19 Rules As England Says Curbs Are ‘Last Resort’

Omicron Hopes 

The highly contagious Omicron variant, which contains a number of mutations, has fuelled an end-of-year global pandemic resurgence.

But mounting evidence in South Africa and elsewhere has fuelled hopes that Omicron, while more contagious than other strains, may also be less severe.

Infections in South Africa dropped by almost 30 percent last week compared to the preceding seven days, according to the president’s office, and while hospital admissions also declined in eight of the nine provinces.

Even so, the risk of increased infections “remains high,” the presidency warned in its Thursday night statement.

Mask-wearing remains compulsory in public spaces and public gatherings are limited to 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 outdoors.

The government has continued to stress the need for caution and vaccination.

Inoculation rates have also improved — more than 15.6 million people in South Africa have been fully vaccinated, out of a population of 59 million.

Little Rise in Deaths 

During the surge in December, only a marginal increase in Covid-19 deaths was noted, while hospitalisation rates were lower than in previous waves, the presidency statement said.

“This means that the country has a spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services.”

Omicron was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in late November.

It quickly became the dominant strain in South Africa, causing an explosion of infections with a peak of about 26,000 daily cases recorded by mid-December, according to official statistics.

The variant is currently present in more than 100 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It can also infect vaccinated people as well as those who have already had coronavirus, although such individuals are also far less at risk of falling severely ill.

South Africa has been the hardest hit by coronavirus on the continent, recording more than 3.4 million cases and 91,000 deaths. But fewer than 13,000 infections had been recorded in the past 24 hours.

“The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering. Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two,” Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council posted on Twitter.

While many Omicron-affected countries are reimposing virus countermeasures, South Africa announced it was reversing course just ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations and a day before the weekend funeral of the venerated anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu.

AFP