South Africa to retain 'Level 1' curbs in Omicron fight

South Africa calls British travel ban over new COVID-19 variant 'rushed'
A passenger in a taxi wears a face mask after the announcement of a British ban on flights from South Africa because of the detection of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 16 (Reuters) - South Africa's National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) has retained its lockdown at 'adjusted level 1', or the lowest of a five-tier system of restrictions, in the battle on the Omicron variant, health authorities said on Thursday.

In the past few days, South Africa has reported more than 20,000 new daily COVID-19 infections, but its scientists see no sign yet that the variant causes more severe illness. read more

"The Council has directed the department to closely monitor the rising COVID-19 infections," the health department said in a statement, adding that it would also track hospital admissions, mortality and recovery rates.

These factors were all largely driven by the Omicron variant, which was contributing to a fourth wave of infections, it added.

The decision followed the Council's deliberation on safety measures recommended by the department to avert any surge in infections during the festive period, it said.

South Africa, the country worst affected by the pandemic on the African continent in terms of confirmed infections and deaths, alerted the world to Omicron in November, triggering alarm that it could cause a global surge in infections.

Scientists suspect that Omicron is more transmissible, given its rapid spread, but say it is too early for definitive conclusions on the severity of the disease it causes.

Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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