South Africa entering fourth Covid wave, says health minister

US reports 10 cases of Omicron as several countries confirm cases of variant

South Africa is entering its fourth wave of Covid-19 infections due to the Omicron variant, South African health minister Joe Phaahla has said.

Mr Phaahla told a media briefing that infections with the new variant were now present in seven out of the country’s nine provinces, and hoped that the variant could be managed without causing too many deaths.

He said hospitals were not under threat at this stage but urged South Africans to be fully vaccinated, saying that was the best protection against Omicron.

Hospital Report

In the United States, New York has confirmed five cases of the Omicron variant, its governor said on Thursday, bringing to five the number of US states having detected the variant, with 10 reported infections nationwide.

California, Colorado and Minnesota have found cases of the variant among patients who were fully vaccinated and developed mild symptoms, while Hawaii reported a case with an unvaccinated person, who had moderate symptoms.

New York governor Kathy Hochul told a news conference one of the state’s cases involved a 67-year-old Long Island woman with mild symptoms of a headache and cough who had recently returned from South Africa.

She had “some vaccination history” but it wasn’t yet clear if she had received one or two doses or a booster shot, Hochul said.

The other four people were New York City residents but further information was not yet available, the governor said.

The Minnesota patient is the first known US case of community transmission of the Omicron variant, found in a fully vaccinated man who had recently travelled to New York City and attended a conference.

Hawaii on Thursday also confirmed a case of community spread. The infected person, who had no history of travel, had previously had Covid-19, the Department of Health said.

To combat the spread of Omicron, President Joe Biden on Thursday announced new testing requirements for international travellers and promised in the coming weeks that Americans would have access to free, rapid at-home Covid-19 testing.

Colorado health officials on Thursday said a woman with the Omicron variant had recently returned from a trip to southern Africa.

California on Wednesday reported the first US case of the variant in a fully vaccinated traveller who had been in South Africa. Los Angeles County on Thursday confirmed California’s second case of the variant.

Scientists are investigating Omicron, which has been labelled as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, to see if it is more transmissible than the Delta variant that is now prevalent and if it causes more severe disease. They are also studying how well current vaccines work against it.

On Friday, Malaysian health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the country detected its first case of the Omicron variant.

It was detected in a foreign visitor from South Africa who arrived in Malaysia via Singapore on November 19th, he said.

Australia has also detected its first Omicron case, health authorities there said.

Sri Lanka’s health authorities on Friday also said they have identified the first Omicron patient in the country.

The Health Ministry said the new Covid-19 variant was identified in a Sri Lankan national who had recently returned from South Africa.

Also on Friday, Slovakia reported 15,278 new Covid-19 cases, the highest number in a single day for the country since the pandemic broke out. The country of 5.5 million has 3,404 people hospitalised with the illness, including 630 in intensive care. Slovakia has one of European Union’s lowest rates of vaccination uptake. – Reuters