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South Africa Tries New Strategy to Deal with New Variant

South Africa is refusing to order lockdowns to combat the new omicron coronavirus variant, labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. Leaders in South Africa, where the variant was first sequenced, are instead calling for calm. “We…know that the coronavirus will be with us for the long term,” said South African president Cyril Ramaphosa in public remarks on Nov. 28. “We must therefore find ways of managing the pandemic while limiting disruption to the economy and ensuring continuity.” Ramaphosa, who criticized travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in the region by the UK, US, and others, declined to tighten domestic lockdown measures. That leaves South Africa at “alert level one” of a five-tier lockdown strategy including mask mandates, a 12 AM-4 AM curfew, and ban on indoor gatherings of more than 750 people. The latest variant comes after three earlier rounds of strict lockdowns in South Africa that crippled the country’s economy, especially for the urban poor and unemployed. South Africa’s politicians appear unwilling to bear the economic cost of another lockdown. The nation will now rely on vaccines and testing as their primary tools to fight the spread of the virus. The strategy may signal a new era in the fight against covid-19 globally.