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South Africa says its Omicron wave may have peaked, and it’s lifting its overnight curfews one month after reporting the new variant

  • South Africa is lifting night curfews after it said its fourth wave of COVID-19 may have peaked.
  • The country’s weekly confirmed cases surged to 162,987 after it detected the Omicron variant.
  • But COVID deaths in South Africa remained relatively low, with weekly death counts peaking at 428.

South African authorities said Thursday that the nation’s fourth COVID-19 wave may have peaked, slightly over a month after the country first reported the Omicron variant.

In response, the country is now lifting its night-time curfew, which restricted 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 it flagged the Omicron variant to the World Health Organization on November 24.

“While the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves,” the statement read, adding that the Omicron wave has resulted in a “marginal increase” in deaths.

South Africa’s fourth wave peaked at 162,987 weekly confirmed cases on December 13, the country’s highest-ever count, per World Health Organization data. But despite the high case numbers, the weekly reported deaths have topped out at 428, far fewer than the peak 4,027 weekly deaths reported during the country’s second wave in January and the peak 2,812 weekly deaths reported during the third wave over the summer. 

The Health Department reported a 29.7% decrease to 89,781 new cases last week, compared to the 127,753 new infections from the week before.

The government said it made the decision “based on the trajectory of the pandemic, the levels of vaccination in the country, and the available capacity within the health sector.”

According to data compiled by Reuters, South Africa has so far fully vaccinated around 23.8% of its population.

Masks are still mandatory in the country, and failure to wear masks where required is a criminal offense, the cabinet said.

“Vaccination remains the best defense against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19,” its statement read. “All people in South Africa who have not yet done so are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Gatherings are still restricted to 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 people outdoors with social distancing.

Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said the latest COVID-19 wave in the US could subside by the end of January, basing his observation on Omicron’s impact in South Africa. Omicron remains the most common COVID-19 variant in the US.

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