MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The Omicron coronavirus variant accounts for most new COVID-19 cases in the majority of South African provinces, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
"As the country heads into a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started. The Omicron variant that was brought to global attention by South African scientists nearly two weeks ago appears to be dominating new infections in most provinces," the president said in a statement published on his official website.
Over the past week, the number of daily COVID-19 cases in South Africa has increased five-fold, which Ramaphosa said was "of great concern" but not surprising.
"Disease modellers in our country have told us that we would likely experience a fourth wave around this time and that it was almost inevitable that new variants of the virus would emerge," he said.
The government is preparing public and private medical facilities in the event of an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients, Ramaphosa said, adding that the National Coronavirus Command Council will soon convene to discuss the current epidemiological situation.
The South African president urged people to get vaccinated, describing it as "urgent priority" for public health and an "essential" component of economic recovery. He stressed that the country has sufficient COVID-19 vaccine supplies and vaccination centers arranged "in every part of the country."
The Omicron strain was first detected in South Africa in late November. The strain contains more mutations in the spike protein — 32 — than all previous variants, meaning that it could hamper the body's immune response and spread more easily.