NOW FOR OMICRON
YOU South Africa|9 December 2021
All you need to know about the new Covid variant that’s sent the world into a spin
NASIFA SULAIMAN & SIPHOKAZI ZAMA
FOR a while we were doing okay. We’d emerged from the third wave and our Covid-19 caseload was the lowest it had been since the start of the pandemic.

Europe was dominating headlines as it became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic once more – Austria went into full lockdown and restrictions were put on public life in several countries.

Here, though, we were daring to dream that we might not have a severe fourth wave, especially as we’d already seen the worst of the Delta variant run rampant throughout Europe.

And then – seemingly overnight – South Africa and its neighbouring countries once again became the pariahs of the pandemic when SA scientists reported the discovery of a worrying new variant that took even top science brains by surprise.

Omicron, as it was named by the World Health Organisation, sent our numbers soaring. Daily new infections rose from an average of 275 to 1 600 in a week.

Just a few days later figures had jumped to 3 220, with Gauteng accounting for 81% of cases.

And across the world borders were being closed to South Africans amid cries of discrimination and haste.

We unpack everything scientists know so far about Omicron – and what you can do to fight it.

BOOSTERS

In November, the government announced that the almost 500 000 healthcare workers who received the J&J vaccine through the Sisonke trial programme will now be offered a booster dose as part of the Sisonke 2 booster study.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, the co-lead investigator of SA’s Sisonke vaccine trial, says all healthcare workers vaccinated in phase 1 should be vaccinated by 17 December. From 1 December immunocompromised adults will be able to receive an additional dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

WILL MY VACCINE PROTECT ME?

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases says that based on the understanding of the mutations in Omicron it’s possible current vaccines won’t fully protect against it. But experts stress that vaccines still offer high levels of protection against severe illness and death.

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