LIVE | Covid-19 in SA: 19 842 new cases, 36 more deaths

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08 December 21:23

Act now to curb Omicron's spread, WHO's Tedros tells world

Governments should urgently reassess their national responses to Covid-19 and accelerate their vaccination programmes to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

The global spread of the variant suggests it could have a major impact on the pandemic, and the time to contain it is now, before more Omicron patients are hospitalised, he told a news briefing.

"We call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing," he said. "... Any complacency now will cost lives."

- Reuters 

08 December 21:21

08 December 21:20

08 December 21:17

Denmark reintroduces some Covid-19 restrictions

Denmark will again impose restrictions aimed at curbing the rapid spread of Covid-19 including the new Omicron variant, the country's prime minister said on Wednesday.

The new restrictions include closing primary schools from 15 December and restaurants and bars from midnight on Friday. They also encourage Danes to work from home and cancel social gatherings such as Christmas parties.

"It is still our assessment that it is possible to keep large parts of Danish society open, thanks to the large support for the vaccines," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a news conference.

She has repeatedly said the government would do everything it could to avoid reintroducing restrictions, but the Nordic country has seen a dramatic jump in new coronavirus cases to record-highs in the past weeks.

Hospitalisations and deaths have so far remained well below the peaks seen around a year ago.

- Reuters 

08 December 21:14

Britain starts recruiting for real-world Covid antiviral trial

British researchers on Wednesday started recruitment for a clinical trial to test antiviral Covid-19 treatments for use in people early on in the disease who are at higher risks of complications, starting with Merck's molnupiravir.

Britain became the first country in the world to approve molnupiravir, which was jointly developed by US-based Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, in November.

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended the antiviral pill for use in people with mild to moderate Covid-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, older age diabetes, and heart disease.

The government said in October it had secured 480 000 courses of the Merck drug, and after its approval, officials said that its rollout would originally be through a trial.

"It is early on in the illness, when people are still being cared for in the community, that treatments for Covid-19 could have their greatest benefit," chief investigator on the trial Professor Chris Butler said."

This new trial will test whether exciting, new antiviral treatments that are more specific to Covid-19 help people in the community recover faster and reduce the need for treatment in hospital."

The University of Oxford, which is leading the trial, said the first treatment to be investigated would be molnupiravir, also known as Lagevrio, but that it would be able to rapidly evaluate several antiviral treatments over time.

Researchers said that while earlier trials had shown new antivirals to be safe and highly effective in treating Covid-19, the new trial would help generate data on how well they work in populations that have high vaccine coverage, and would inform the broader rollout of the drug.

The study will look to recruit 10 600 people to test whether molnupiravir reduces the need for people to be admitted to hospital.

- Reuters

08 December 21:07

England to introduce vaccine passports for first time: UK PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that England would make vaccine passports mandatory for the first time in crowded settings such as nightclubs due to a surge in Omicron cases.

Johnson said that England will make Covid passports "mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather", adding that the passport will be available to those who have received two vaccine doses.

Other UK regions already have such compulsory pass schemes.


08 December 18:58

Omicron may pose higher reinfection risk but could be milder than Delta: WHO chief

The World Health Organisation chief said Wednesday that preliminary data indicated the Omicron variant of Covid-19 may more easily reinfect people who have already had the virus or been vaccinated than previous variants, but could also cause milder disease.

"Emerging data from South Africa suggests increased risk of reinfection with Omicron," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, adding that there was "also some evidence that Omicron causes milder disease than Delta."

- AFP 

08 December 18:22

Sahpra has approved a third Pfizer vaccine booster shot.

Read the full statement here:

The South African Health Products Authority (Sahpra) initially approved the use of Pfizer’s Comirnaty® Covid-19 vaccine on 16 March 2021, in terms of section 21 of the Medicines and Related Substance Act (Act 101 of 1965).

On 17 November 2021, Sahpra received an application from Pfizer to amend the dosing schedule for the Comirnaty® Covid-19 vaccine, allowing an optional third (booster) dose. Following evaluation of the data submitted, Sahpra has approved the following options:

- A third dose of the Comirnaty® Covid-19 vaccine in individuals aged 18 years and older, to be administered at least 6 months after the second dose.

- A third dose of the Comirnaty® Covid-19 vaccine in individuals aged 12 years and older who are severely immunocompromised, to be administered at least 28 days after the second dose.

The data provided only dealt with the situation of homologous boosting, where the third dose is of the same vaccine as the initial course (in this case, two doses).

Sahpra is aware of the keen interest in the efficacy and safety of heterologous boosting regimens (so-called “mix-and-match” approaches) and invites the submission of supportive data in this regard.

08 December 16:45

UK reports 131 new cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

Britain has reported 131 new cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 568.

- Reuters 

08 December 16:30

Austria allows broad lifting of lockdown, but many provinces hold off

Austria will let a wide range of businesses, from non-essential shops to theatres and restaurants, reopen when its Covid-19 lockdown ends on Sunday, the government said on Wednesday, but many provinces plan to ease restrictions more cautiously.

The list of businesses that can reopen from Sunday applies provided the local province is not keeping tighter restrictions.

Vienna will only let restaurants fully reopen a week later, and the governor of Tyrol province told a news conference several of Austria's nine provinces would reopen only gradually.

- Reuters 

08 December 16:28

France says fifth Covid-19 wave has not peaked yet

The fifth wave of Covid-19 hitting France has not yet reached its peak, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday, and the cabinet's top adviser on the coronavirus indicated a fourth vaccine shot to fight the disease was possible.

"The peak is clearly not behind us, the pandemic continues to gain ground," Attal said during a press briefing following the weekly cabinet meeting, though adding the pace of increase in daily new cases seemed to be slowing somewhat.

"But it's still spreading quickly and will continue to do so in the coming weeks," he said, days after France announced new restrictions to contain the Delta variant-fuelled spread of the virus, including the closure of nightclubs ahead of Christmas and a tightening of social distancing measures.

The seven-day moving average of new confirmed new infections set a new 2021 high of more than 44 500 on Tuesday.

Earlier the government's top Covid-19 adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said France will "suffer again" as this new wave was bound to take a toll on an "already tired hospital system".

France, whose adult population is more than 90% fully vaccinated, is hoping a national campaign inviting everyone over age 18 to get a third vaccine - or booster shot - as fast as possible will avoid the need for tougher curbs on daily life.

"For now, there's a call for one booster shot. Will that be enough? I don't know. Maybe we'll need a fourth shot," Delfraissy said, adding that vaccines were mainly effective against severe forms of Covid-19 and less so against transmission of the virus.

- Reuters 

08 December 16:14

Sanlam paid over R14bn in death claims over 10 months, mostly due to 3rd Covid-19 wave

Sanlam says its life and savings business paid more than R14 billion in death claims in the first 10 months of this year alone.

The insurer, which published its operating update on Wednesday, said most of these claims resulted from the third wave of Covid-19 infections, which peaked around July.

"Significant excess mortality claims were recorded in the South African and Emerging Markets operations," wrote Sanlam in the trading update.

It said the more than R14 billion in gross mortality claims that Sanlam Life and Savings paid in the ten months to 31 October represented an 88% increase compared to claims paid over the same period in 2020. 


08 December 16:09

08 December 16:04

Botswana, one of the first countries to detect Omicron, sees no rise in hospitalisations

Botswana has not seen a rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations despite being one of the first countries to detect the Omicron variant, and has managed to fully vaccinate 71% of its 1.3 million eligible population, the health minister said on Wednesday.

The heavily mutated variant has caused alarm among scientists and governments and is widely expected to become dominant because of its high transmissibility. It has spread to at least 57 countries.

"Currently we only have one person in ICU (intensive care). But there is a trend that we have noticed which is that those that get seriously ill have not been vaccinated," Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti told a news conference.

The World Health Organisation said in its weekly epidemiological report on Wednesday that more data was needed to assess the severity of disease caused by the Omicron variant and whether its mutations might reduce protection from vaccine-derived immunity.

The number of reported Covid-19 cases in South Africa doubled in the week to 5 December to more than 62 000 and "very large" increases in incidence have been seen in Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Lesotho.

The Omicron variant can partially evade the protection from two doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, the research head of a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa said on Tuesday, reporting the results of a small, limited study.

- Reuters 

08 December 15:59

08 December 14:03

Leaks suggest the UK is about to tighten Covid-19 restrictions as Omicron cases mount

- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could tighten Covid-19 restrictions this week, reports said.

- New measures could include instructions to work from home, and vaccine passports in more venues.

- The Omicron variant of coronavirus is already spreading rapidly across the UK.


08 December 09:14

ANALYSIS | Keymanthri Moodley: Vaccine mandates in South Africa - Where are they most needed?

Keymanthri Moodley examines how effective would a vaccination mandate be at this late stage and what should one look like if and when it’s put in place.


08 December 08:39

Mia Malan | The joke’s on us, South Africa. The cruel logic of Omicron travel bans – debunked

Wealthy nations were quick to ban southern African nations from entering their borders when the Omicron variant was identified – but not against each other. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is nothing new, writes Mia Malan.


08 December 08:35

Omicron: How the Covid virus mutates and creates new variants – a virologist explains

- New variants are believed to emerge in people with weakened immune systems.

- The Omicron variant is suspected to have mutated within an HIV patient not on treatment.

- A virologist explains why the virus has a higher opportunity to mutate inside people who are immunosuppressed than in those who are vaccinated.


08 December 08:20

Australia finds 'Omicron-like' variant in traveller who arrived from South Africa

Australia’s Queensland state has found a new Omicron lineage in a traveller who arrived from South Africa, health authorities said Wednesday. 

The new lineage has about half the gene variations of the original and can’t be detected with typical screening, the state’s acting chief health officer Peter Aitken told reporters. It was found in a traveler who had arrived from South Africa and tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, he said. 


07 December 19:45

SA's latest Covid-19 numbers

The number of vaccinations sits at 26 639 293.

07 December 14:19

Uganda confirms 11 Omicron infections - 2 from travellers from SA

Uganda announced Tuesday that it had detected cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in travellers coming into the country, the first infections to be reported in East Africa.

The cases were detected in people screened at Entebbe International Airport who flew in from five different countries, Ugandan medical authorities said in a statement.

Five had come from Nigeria, two from South Africa - where the variant was first reported - and two from the United Arab Emirates.

The others had travelled from the Netherlands and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two weeks after first being identified in South Africa, Omicron has now been found in about 40 countries around the world.

The heavily mutated variant has deepened fears of another deadly wave of infections and signalled that the nearly two-year battle against the pandemic is not over.


07 December 13:02

The AU wants member states to urgently lift travel bans imposed on South Africa

- The African Union wants several member states to urgently drop their restrictions on South African travellers. African nations with travel restrictions include Angola, Seychelles, Rwanda, Morocco, Mauritius, and Egypt, according to Flight Centre.

- The union says that, in addition to these travel bans being unscientific, they have a negative socioeconomic impact.

- Restrictions also limit the capacity of essential medical supplies and reagents needed to study the Omicron variant.


07 December 07:39

Tighter lockdown will not help slow down Omicron, experts

As the country fights off the Covid-19 fourth wave, one of President Cyril Ramaphosa's first tasks, when he returns home from his West African trip, is to meet the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).  


07 December 07:38

Covid-19: ‘We have enough bed capacity based on lessons from the third wave’ – Joe Phaahla

Health Minister Joe Phaahla says his department has no plan to increase the number of beds from the current baseline, amid the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant.


07 December 07:35

Covid-19: South Africa records 6 381 new infections and 9 deaths

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), as of Monday, the country recorded 3 038 075 laboratory-confirmed cases. There have been nine new Covid-19 deaths, bringing the death toll to 89 975.


06 December 21:05

JUST IN | US re-evaluates southern Africa travel ban daily - White House

The US' ban on foreign nationals entering the country from eight southern African countries is something President Joe Biden's public health advisers reconsider daily, the White House said on Tuesday.

"It would be a recommendation from Dr [Anthony] Fauci and the health and medical experts that will pull back those restrictions, and that's something that's being evaluated," White House Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, referring to the top US infectious diseases official.

- Reuters

06 December 19:02

SA's latest Covid-19 numbers

The total vaccinations sit at 26 490 416.

06 December 17:05

JUST IN | EU regulator backs extending RoActemra use for adults with severe Covid-19

The European Union's drug regulator on Monday recommended extending the use of Roche's RoActemra for adults with Covid-19 on systemic treatment with corticosteroids and those who need oxygen support or mechanical ventilation.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its human medicines committee evaluated data from a main study involving over 4 000 hospitalised adults, and concluded the medicine's benefits outweigh the risks for these patients.

- Reuters

06 December 16:50

Russia reports first Omicron cases, both travellers from SA

Russia has registered its first two cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in its nationals returning from South Africa - where the variant was first detected - the country's health agency said on Monday.

"Two citizens who returned to Russia from South Africa have been diagnosed with the Omicron coronavirus strain," the Rospotrebnadzor health agency said in a statement.

The agency said that all Russians returning from South Africa and its neighbouring countries are tested at the border and placed in special observatories.

Any people exhibiting symptoms or testing positive after a PCR test are then quarantined in infectious disease hospitals, Rospotrebnadzor said.

Russia has reported more than 9.8 million infections and 282 462 deaths from the virus - the highest toll in Europe.


06 December 16:13

Argentina's first Omicron case is traveller from SA

Argentina has registered its first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, in a traveler from South Africa, the health ministry announced.

The infected person, 38 and fully vaccinated, had travelled to the African country for work, and returned to Argentina on 30 November, the ministry said in a statement late Sunday.

The traveler had tested negative for the virus before departure and on arrival in Argentina, but had another test because they had been in contact with people in South Africa since diagnosed with Covid-19.This time, the results were positive, and genomic sequencing showed the virus to be of the Omicron variety.

The infected person, who has no symptoms, had had a previous coronavirus infection.

Four people who had been in contact with the traveler were placed in preventive isolation, even if tests have so far come back negative.

The ministry urged the population to remain on high alert and continue taking preventive measures.


06 December 16:12

EU to consider easing Omicron travel curbs on southern Africa

European Union health ministers will discuss on Tuesday whether to adjust the travel curbs the bloc’s nations have imposed on southern Africa in response to the omicron variant.

The ministers may agree on the need for a PCR test for vaccinated third-country nationals from that region, which could allow some travel bans to be eased or lifted in a week, according to an EU diplomat familiar with the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting in Brussels.

European nations last month suspended most air travel from South Africa and six other countries in the region to stem the spread of the new variant while scientists try to assess its severity. Governments across the world tightened entry rules and some reintroduced quarantine measures, as airlines slashed thousands of flights.
Read the report

06 December 15:11

Mangosuthu Buthelezi tests positive for Covid-19 again

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi has tested positive for Covid-19 again, his family says. 

Buthelezi is, however, asymptomatic and is self-isolating. The statement said he has taken both vaccine shots.

FULL STATEMENT: "We, the family of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Founder and President Emeritus of the IFP, Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan and Traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, wish to advise that uMntwana wa KwaPhindangene has again tested positive for Covid-19. 

"We are pleased to say that, as with his first bout in August last year, he remains relatively asymptomatic and is in good spirits. His only regret is being unable to attend the installation ceremony of the Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, as intended on Friday. 

"As required, he has begun self-isolating at home for the mandatory period. We are grateful to know that he is double vaccinated and will be monitored by a very capable team. During this period of self-isolation, members of the media are kindly requested to respect our space. Please rest assured that we will keep you informed of his return to work. 

"Once again we thank you for your prayers as we await a good outcome. We also urge everyone to be circumspect in this time of increasing infections and to vigilantly take the necessary precautions to protect both lives and livelihoods."

06 December 14:42

Namibia detects 18 cases of Omicron

Namibia has detected the Omicron coronavirus variant in 18 of 19 samples sequenced between 11-26 November, its health ministry said on Monday.

Although the southern African country has sequenced relatively few samples, the finding suggests the variant first flagged by neighbouring South Africa and Botswana late last month, and since labelled "of concern" by the World Health Organisation, is also highly prevalent in Namibia.

Namibia's Omicron cases were detected predominantly in and around the capital Windhoek, a region that recorded 536 out of 695 new infections countrywide in the first five days of December.

The other non-Omicron sample sequenced among the 19 was the Delta strain.

Namibia had been on high alert for Omicron after it was identified in two people in Japan and the Czech Republic who had a history of travel to Namibia

- Reuters

06 December 14:37

Sanitisers sold in Tshwane not up to standard, study finds

A scientist from the University of Pretoria (UP) has found that commercial, off-the-shelf hand sanitisers sold in parts of Tshwane are substandard. 

According to Dr Abdullahi Ahmed Yusuf, senior lecturer in Entomology in UP's Department of Zoology and Entomology, many of the sanitisers don't contain the recommended alcohol content, and are mostly incorrectly labelled according to local and international standards. 

Yusuf published his findings in the South African Journal of Science. 


06 December 14:36

Tshwane students shrug off Omicron, fret about exams despite their varsity being Covid-19 hotspot

The students knew their university was a hotspot of a new Covid-19 variant spreading panic across the globe, but over the past week many worried more about how Omicron would mess up exams and holiday plans than about catching it.

At the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), in the capital Pretoria, students languidly walked across the green campus shaded by trees, chatting, buying soft drinks, staring at their phones and sitting on benches overlooking a pond.

Most wore masks; a few didn't. Many were vaccinated; some obstinately were not. Around 30 students interviewed by Reuters were mostly concerned about their classes being disrupted again. And whatever their opinions on the vaccine, the outbreak had done nothing to change their minds.


06 December 13:33

Hospitals prepping for more admissions as fourth wave looms - Ramaphosa

- In his latest newsletter, President Cyril Ramaphosa says hospitals are preparing for new Covid-19 admissions. 

- On Saturday, the NICD reported that 3 255 people were currently receiving treatment for Covid-19 in public and private hospitals. 

- On Sunday, 11 123 new cases were identified, bringing the cumulative number to 3 031 694.


06 December 12:08

Should schools close as the fourth wave begins? Activists, parents and teachers comment

Education Activist Hendrick Makaneta has called on the Gauteng Department of Education to consider closing schools early amid the fourth wave of Covid-19. However, with schools due to close on 15 December, many parents and teachers seem to have conflicting views about this sentiment.

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