Despite the rise of coronavirus cases in South Africa where the new omicron variant was detected, stricter lockdown measures are not being imposed. The country's President Cyril Ramaphosa instead told those who remain unvaccinated that it's time to roll up a sleeve.
South Africans were relieved to begin their week like any other Monday.
Tensions were high all weekend as the public awaited the government’s response to the omicron variant.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation last night that while coronavirus cases are on the rise, current measures of mask-wearing and a midnight curfew would suffice.
At a café in Johannesburg, head barista Allen Mhlophe said it was welcome news.
“I'm happy because we can be able to serve our community and, you know, keep the economy running and growing,” said Mhlophe.
Ramaphosa said while the world learned to live with the virus, vaccinations were key to keeping the country open.
About 41 percent of adults in South Africa have been vaccinated, according to government data.
Ramaphosa said it’s time for the remainder of people to get their shots.
“We still have too many people were expressing doubt and who are resisting to be vaccinated.... Vaccination is by far the most important way to protect yourself and those around you against the Omicron variant to reduce the impact of the fourth wave and to help restore the social freedoms we all yearn for,” he said.
The president also warned the government is exploring policies around making vaccines mandatory to access certain services or venues.
Barista Allen Mphole said that would be hard on businesses to police and could cause social divisions.
“You find that there's those small quarrels whereby these other people who do not believe in vaccine but there are other people who do believe in it. So, it kind of causes a tension between not only the customers in the people who serve them, but within themselves as well,” said Mphole.
The omicron variant triggered widespread travel bans to southern Africa by Britain, the United States, European Union and other nations.
Ramaphosa named countries in his address late Sunday, saying their decisions were not based on science and unfairly punishing the economies of poorer nations.
Political scientist at the University of the Free State, Ina Gouws, said it was a strong message to the West.
But whether it changes restrictions remains to be seen.
“We already had the first reports from one of our medical experts that it doesn't seem that this variant is particularly dangerous or resisting to the vaccine. So, I think maybe they will listen to that aspect of the approach rather than the political message that you are discriminating against Africa,” said Gouws.
Travel bans have also been imposed within the continent, with Mauritius, Rwanda and Kenya restricting flights.
Gouws said African nations should rather stand together and lobby for the return of flights to Europe and other nations.
“There's an argument to make for African leaders to have a more coherent approach to this. More African leaders who speak up and consolidate these efforts, in my opinion, not just this one,” said Gouws.
The World Health Organization has called travel bans ineffective and said countries should instead require testing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Britian has said flights to South Africa will resume this week, although a 10-day hotel quarantine will be mandatory for arrivals.