South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla has said that the country can manage the fourth wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant without imposing stringent restrictions, as he urged citizens to follow the protocols and get fully vaccinated.
"We can manage this fourth wave; we can manage Omicron with the basic tools we all know," Phaahla said.
The Omicron variant, which has raised fears of a surge in infections around the world, was first detected in South Africa last month.
"We can still manage this in a manner where government doesn''t have to invoke serious restrictions over the next few days if we all just do our basic duties of the safety measures and also if more of us who are eligible - everybody from 12 years upwards - approach the nearest vaccination sites to receive our jab," he said during a media briefing on Friday.
New COVID-19 cases in South Africa have swelled from about 200 a day in mid-November to more than 16,000 on Friday.
The Omicron variant has over 50 mutations, and scientists have called it a big jump in the evolution of the virus.
When asked whether stricter lockdown measures were in the pipeline amid the exponentially rising rate of infections across the country, the Health Minister said there would be a meeting in the coming week.
"We needed just over a week to monitor the situation and see what measures need to be taken. At this stage one would not want to pre-empt. There will be a meeting in the coming week and we will look at among other things the rapid rise (in infections), but we will also look at whether we need to raise the restrictions from the Level One where we are," Phaahla offered.
South Africa uses a five-level lockdown strategy and is currently at the lowest Level One.
"While we are saying what the government is going to do, all of us individually and collectively could even reduce the level to which regulatory intervention would be required by simply wearing masks and the key really is just avoiding big gatherings, especially indoors," he explained.
Phaahla noted that only a small number of people who have been vaccinated have gotten sick, mostly with mild cases, while the vast majority of those who have been hospitalised were not vaccinated.
The minister strongly condemned people for ignoring symptoms and going out in public, thereby putting others at risk.
"People who know that if they are positive and then go out for groceries or medicines are very irresponsible. We should condemn such behaviour. When you have tested positive or even if you have been in contact (with someone positive); until your results come, you have to keep away from mixing with other people," he added.