South Africans urge jabs as president ill in omicron wave

People register for COVID-19 vaccination at Soweto’s Baragwanath hospital, South Africa, Monday Dec. 13, 2021. South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new COVID-19 cases has risen over the past two weeks from 7.60 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 28 to 32.71 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 12, according to Johns Hopkins University. In general, the new omicron cases have resulted in milder cases, with fewer hospitalizations and less severe cases requiring oxygen or intensive care. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has postponed getting a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine because he has tested positive for the disease and is recuperating from mild symptoms, his office announced Monday.

Ramaphosa is receiving medical treatment for his symptoms and is self-isolating in Cape Town, according to his office.

South Africa’s regulatory authority last week approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be used as a booster shot, opening the way for third doses to be administered to adults in order to battle the current surge driven by the omicron variant.

“The president’s infection is causing him to delay a vaccine booster shot which he was scheduled to receive this week,” his office said in a statement issued Monday.

Ramaphosa “reiterates his call to everyone in the country to be vaccinated, as vaccination dramatically reduces the chances of serious illness, hospitalization or death,” the statement said.

South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 7.6 new cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 28 to 32.7 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 12, according to Johns Hopkins University.

More than 70% of the new cases since mid-November are omicron, according to nationwide tests, experts say.

In general, the new omicron cases have resulted in milder disease, with fewer hospitalizations and less severe cases requiring oxygen or intensive care, according to doctors and official figures. Despite the rising numbers of cases, South Africa’s death rate has not gone up, although experts warn it could increase in the next few weeks.

News that Ramaphosa has contracted COVID-19 has sparked different reactions from citizens, with some saying they hope it will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Moreen Mokhethi, 60, a resident of Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, said she hopes that the president testing positive for COVID-19 will convince people to be more careful about contracting the virus.

“My worry is that a lot of people, like in Tembisa where I live, seem not be scared of the virus anymore. There are many weddings and events now because it is the festive season, so it (the virus) might spread some more,” said Mokhethi.

Robert Matlala, 28, who said he was fully vaccinated, said he hoped Ramaphosa contracting COVID-19 would encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“I hope some people who are not taking this thing seriously will see that anyone can get it. I recently got my second shot, so I feel a little bit safer,” said Matlala.

South African health experts agree that vaccinations are important in battling the new wave driven by omicron.

“Everything we know points to what the president experienced — when you get it (COVID-19) when vaccinated, it tends to be much less serious,” said Francois Venter, infectious diseases professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Ramaphosa, 69, ended his four-nation tour of West Africa last week, returning from Senegal on Dec. 8 when he tested negative. He tested negative throughout the African tour but some members of his delegation had to return back home after testing positive for the virus in Nigeria.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa was not feeling well and tested positive, his office announced.

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