South African President Ramaphosa advances crucial Covid meeting as global concern over new Omicron variant peak

JOHANNESBERG (Reuters) – South African President South African President Cyril Ramaphosa advanced to Saturday an urgent meeting with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), amid growing global concern over the potentially new variant of Omicron more contagious, which was first detected in the country.
The meeting was originally scheduled for Sunday.
The meeting comes as a growing number of European countries are following the UK’s lead in banning travel to and from South Africa and neighboring countries of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, as well than Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), both landlocked in South Africa.
The latest to impose the ban are Mauritius, the United States, Israel, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.
Speculation is rife that Ramaphosa will announce a tighter lockdown and other measures to curb the spread of the new variant.
The new COVID-19 B.1.1.529 variant, first detected in South Africa this week, was designated as a ‘variant of concern’ on Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO), which named it “Omicron”.
A ‘worrying variant’ is the WHO’s first category of worrying variants of Covid-19.
It was first reported to WHO by South Africa on November 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.
In the past, an NCCC meeting was always followed by a nationwide broadcast by Ramaphosa to announce changes to South Africa’s five-level lockdown strategy, which is currently at the lowest level one.
“The results of this meeting will indicate whether further consultations are needed at the level of the President’s Coordinating Council,” Presidency Minister Mondli Gungubele said in a statement.
“The National Coronavirus Command Council is one of many government structures – which include the President’s Coordinating Council and the Cabinet – where scientific evidence and submissions from different economic and social sectors inform the decision-making of the executive, ”the statement added.
“The government is working closely with the social partners to ensure that a balance is maintained between protecting and saving lives, enabling people to earn a living and allowing the economy at large to recover and develop.” , did he declare.
In an emergency press conference on Thursday, South African Minister of Health Joe Phaahla expressed concern over the rapid rise in Covid-19 infections over the past week, in particular in the economic center of Gauteng province.
“This variant has a very high number of mutations, which is of concern for its predicted immune evasion and transmissibility,” said Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu’s Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. Natal (KRISP), during the briefing.
“The first signs from diagnostic laboratories suggest that the variant has spread rapidly in Gauteng province and could also be present in most of the other eight provinces of South Africa,” added De Oliveira.
Analysts said the predicted fourth wave arrived earlier than expected in December because the government allowed large rallies in October ahead of the November 1 local elections across the country.
This had resulted in large gatherings where people sometimes exceeded the prescribed maximum quota of 2,000 and failed to meet social distancing and mask-wearing requirements.
Virologists spoke out on the matter at the time, warning that allowing such large gatherings could lead to a hard lockdown by December.
There has also been widespread reluctance towards vaccines in South Africa, including some political parties leading an anti-vaccination agitation, despite intensive government efforts to provide them for free, even to religious institutions.

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