South Africa lifts nighttime curfews after saying its fourth wave of COVID-19 may have peaked.
Weekly confirmed cases nationwide soared to 162,987 after detecting the Omicron variant.
But COVID deaths in South Africa remained relatively low, with the weekly death toll peaking at 428.
South African authorities said on Thursday that the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19 may have peaked, just over a month after the country first reported the Omicron variant.
In response, the country is now lifting its nighttime curfew, which barred people from going out between midnight and 4 a.m., the South African cabinet said in a statement.
With the announcement, South Africa is now at its lowest of five COVID-19 alert levels, weeks after reporting the Omicron variant to the World Health Organization on November 24.
“Although the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, hospitalization rates have been lower than in previous waves,” the statement said, adding that the Omicron wave resulted in a “marginal increase” in deaths.
South Africa’s fourth wave peaked at 162,987 weekly confirmed cases on December 13, the highest number on record in the country, according to data from the World Health Organization. But despite the high number of cases, the number of reported weekly deaths peaked at 428, far below the peak of 4,027 weekly deaths reported in the country’s second wave in January and the peak of 2,812 weekly deaths reported in the third wave during the summer.
The Department of Health reported a drop of 29.7% to 89,781 new cases last week, from 127,753 new infections the week before.
The government said it made the decision “on the basis of the trajectory of the pandemic, immunization levels in the country and available capacities in the health sector.”
South Africa has so far fully immunized around 23.8% of its population, according to data compiled by Reuters.
Masks are still mandatory in the country, and it is a criminal offense not to wear masks where required, the cabinet said.
“Vaccination remains the best defense against serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19,” its statement said. “All people in South Africa who have not yet done so are encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as possible.”
Gatherings are still limited to 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 people outside with social distancing.
Earlier this week, Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, said the latest wave of COVID-19 in the United States could subside by the end of January, basing his observation on the impact of Omicron in South Africa. Omicron remains the most common COVID-19 variant in the United States.
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