South African president positive for COVID-19 as Omicron cases skyrocket

The South African president tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday as cases of the Omicron variant have surged in the region, officials said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is fully vaccinated, is receiving medical treatment for “mild COVID-19 symptoms” after he tested positive on Sunday, his office said in a statement.

Officials said he began feeling unwell after attending a state memorial service in honor of former Deputy President FW de Klerk in Cape Town earlier in the day.

The 69-year-old Ramaphosa, who is “in good spirits,” has temporarily delegated his responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week while he remains in isolated quarantine in Cape Town. He is being monitored by the South African Military Health Service of the South African National Defence Force, officials said.

The president’s positive test comes as South Africa and neighboring countries have seen a dramatic spike in infections, with experts attributing the increase to the potentially more transmissible Omicron variant, which is believed to have originated in the region.

South Africa confirmed 22,400 new cases on Thursday and 19,000 on Friday, up from about 200 per day just a few weeks ago. The new surge has infected 90,000 people in the past month, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla told the Associated Press Friday.

According to South African officials, 70 percent of all new cases of the virus have been the Omicron variant. The coronavirus reproduction rate in the current wave, which indicates the number of people likely to be infected by one person — is 2.5, the highest that South Africa has recorded during the pandemic, Phaahla said.

Eighty-six percent of those hospitalized were unvaccinated, and only 30 percent of those hospitalized were seriously ill. Only 3 percent of hospitalized patients died from the virus, down from 20 percent in earlier outbreaks, and the average hospital stay was only 2.8 days, down from eight days, officials said.

The variant appears to cause less severe symptoms than other variants such as delta, which had become the dominant strain in 2021. However, medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci fear that the virus may evade current vaccines, although preliminary reports suggest receiving a booster shot helps defend against it.

“The thing that’s important is that [Omicron] appears to be able to evade some of the immune protection of things like monoclonal antibodies, convalescent plasma and the antibodies that are induced by vaccines. That’s the sobering news,” Fauci told ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” on Sunday.

“The somewhat encouraging news is that preliminary data show that when you get a booster, for example, a third shot of an mRNA, it raises the level of protection high enough that it then does do well against the Omicron,” Fauci added.

With Post Wires