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How is South Africa doing right now with Covid-19?


This article aims to give you an indication of where South Africa actually is right now in terms of Covid-19 (16th December 2021). How much can change in one month! In a shock turnaround since our last update in mid November, our Doctors detected and our Scientists identified the new Omicron Variant of Concern. From a 7-day moving average of 290 new Covid cases per day only a month ago the current 7-day average is 22,850. These are likely to be mostly Omicron as we had so few Delta cases in Oct-Nov. However the good news so far is that symptoms in those infected do seem to be milder than previous waves. And vaccines do still offer protection, though not as much as with the Delta variant.

In a recent study of 22,000 covid cases by Discovery Health (largest Medical Aid supplier in SA), they state that vaccines reduce the chances of getting Omicron by 30% (so we expect lots of break-through infections). But, as importantly, they state that double vaccinated are 70% less likely to get hospitalised and even less likely to die. So there is still substantial protection from vaccination. Though less than for the original variants, as is to be expected.

So far (approx 3-4 weeks into the Omicron outbreak), hospitalisation and need for oxygen in hospitals is still well below the previous 2nd and 3rd waves. Thus we are cautiously optimistic that – though this Omicron 4th wave will produce lots of illness (sore throat, flu symptoms, body aches etc) – hopefully hospitalisation and deaths will remain muted.

These are the current statistics.

  • 7 day new case average = 22,850
  • 7 day deaths average = 27

South Africa is on Adjusted Tier 1 of national restrictions. Tier 1 restrictions allows full operation but there is a 12pm to 4am curfew. Tier 1 restricts very large gatherings, especially inside, but it does not affect tourism visitors in any material way. However masks are still warn in shops and customers are asked to use hand sanitizer.

Anecdotally, we see that the few international visitors in hotels, game lodges and restaurants are continuing their trips as planned and following whatever protocols are required by their home country on their return. Domestic tourism continues, as it has done since August 2020, with no discernable negative impact.

Vaccination Update

After a very slow start due to complete lack of vaccines, our vaccination programme is moving at a steady pace using vaccines from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. We are averaging around 150,000 vaccinations a day, which is lower than we would want. The rise in cases may spur a greater throughput.

Registration is now open to all adults and teenagers 15 years and over. As we have a very young population, I believe it is more interesting to look at vaccinations of our adult population.

We have currently vaccinated 45% of over 18s (single J&J or 1st dose Pfizer) with nearly 40% of adults fully vaccinated. Nearly 60% of the over 25’s are fully or partially vaccinated.

However game lodges and hotels are naturally mandating that all their staff get vaccinated so that increasingly nearly all of the people you meet in hotels and lodges will be fully vaccinated. (We would estimate 85-90% of tourism employees). But in more remote rural areas’- which dont receive much tourism – there is still considerable vaccine hesitancy. We expect this to continue unless the Government starts to mandate vaccination.

Other African Destinations

All our other destinations such as Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe have low cases overall AND low cases as measured per million of population.

Why this may be will be the discussion point for future years. But probably the following are contributing factors in their favour:

  • Young population (average age being less than 20 in many cases)
  • Mainly living with access to ventilated spaces and much time spent outside
  • Not high levels of pollution
  • Not high levels of 1st world health issues eg. diabetes, obesity etc

4th wave led by Omicron

We are now officially in the 4th wave which is much earlier than we were expecting. With this new variant, we no longer know what the likely peak would be. In the past it was 25,000 daily cases. But it could be as high as 50,000 cases a day. (ie similar to the European cases for countries of similar size.). Nor do we know when it is likely to peak but my next update (mid January) should shed more light.

Country Comparison (as at 16 December 2021)

Below we show visually how the South African case chart above compares to the USA, Germany, UK and France, (the latter two with a similar population size.)

South Africa is not alone in having the Omicron outbreak, with detection in 75 countries so far and counting. It is likely to become the dominant variant in many of those countries. If the symptoms continue to be mild, this could actually bode well. But it is too early to say for sure.

Now that the majority of our over 35 population has been double-vaccinated, we expect the death rate to continue to drop as a % of cases.

UK Cases
USA Cases
French Cases
German Cases

On a per million basis of cases and deaths we continue to show lower incidence than nearly all of the Western World. However the relative lack of vaccines has meant that our death rate per million remains higher than we would like. But still lower than MOST European countries.

World Rankings – 16 Dec 2021 (Note: The lower, the better!) 
 Cases per Million PopulationDeaths per Million Population
USA17th (no major change)20th (no change)
UK17th (worsened from 19th)29th (no change)
France32nd (no major change)40th (improved from 38th)
Germany84th (worsened from 96th)69th (no real change)
South Africa106th (no major change) 55th (improved from 53rd)
Only European County with better rank:Finland (121st)
 (Excl small tax havens like Isle of Man)Iceland and Norway now have more
 cases per mill than South Africa
 In population size, South Africa is 25th largest country

Source: – South Africa

Only 6% of South Africa’s population is over 65 years old which means that we have fewer people in the high risk categories. Plus 28% of our population is under 15 years old and 43% are under 25 years. 59% of the over 25s are partially vaccinated.

Other African Destinations have been even less affected, again because of their age profile but also the relative outdoor lifestyle.

Vaccination Programme

Our vaccination programme started at a glacial pace. As you know, many developed countries have been able to secure large quantities of the first available vaccines upfront. However – after a slow and poor start – South Africa is steadily on its way with our vaccination programme. The over 18s are eligible to have their 2nd dose from now onwards and we have opened up to 12 to 17 year olds. The Government is enlisted the assistance of the Private Medical Aid companies & Pharmacies to distribute the vaccines, and distribution has been going pretty smoothly.

South Africa has now secured enough vaccines to vaccinate approx 80% of people 18 years and older. But we have a population of 60 million, many of whom live in remote rural areas and so the rollout will take some time. There are still long queues in rural areas and so many people are delaying.

However in the cities, it is easy to get vaccinated. Most hotels and game lodges are either mandating or strongly insisting their staff get vaccinated.

There are two vaccines used in South Africa – the single dose Johnson & Johnson Vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine. Both have shown good efficacy against the original Beta variant (which is now virtually swiped out by the prevailing Delta variant) and the world-pervasive delta variant.

We are not relying on vaccination alone and various protocols are being used within the Medical Community which seem to reduce the likelihood of serious illness and death.

Current South Africa Vaccination Statistics

Number of adults over 18 vaccinated (at least one dose): 45%

Number of adults over 18 vaccinated (fully vaccinated): nearly 40%

This varies by province with some provinces such as the Western Cape showing higher levels of vaccination. 54% of all over 18s have had at least one Pfizer jab or the J&J jab.

We appreciate that this seems behind YOUR country. But our mostly highly vunerable age groups are fairly well protected.

We are starting our 3rd jab booster programme but most of our population has been vaccinated within the last 4-5 months. However the oldest population (over 60s) can start to get boosters from the end of December.

Vaccination by Age group

  • Over 60s – 68% vaccinated
  • 50-59 – 61% vaccinated
  • 35-49 – 49% vaccinated
  • 18 -34 – 30% vaccinated**

‘** There is vaccine hesitancy amongst younger people and so the Government may need to introduce vaccination mandates for bars/sports events/restaurants etc. It is this lower rate of vaccinations of those under 35 years old which is pulling the overall total down. This has shown some change in the last few days

Very little social distancing amongst this lion pride!

Tourism in South Africa

Since emerging from its first wave, South Africa has benefitted from a small, but enthusiastic, local market for tourism. During the last 14 months, safe tourism has been shown to be perfectly possible.

Cedarberg Africa has a small number of international clients in the country at the moment or about to travel. They are NOT locked in and in fear for their lives.

South Africa has developed a comprehensive set of protocols for hotels and game lodges:

  • Safe-guarding entry to the hotel or lodge, temperature testing, screening and hand-washing on arrival
  • Clear social distancing protocols with capacity limits for vehicles, restaurants etc
  • A “theatre of cleaning” but also putting the amount of  room cleaning & staff entry into the hands of the client. If you don’t want someone returning to do a turn-down, you don’t have to.
  • Clear and explainable protocols around eating (Buffets are out. A la carte meals and room service are in.)
  • Increased use of travel apps so that you don’t need to touch menus, wine lists or in room information. All the info is now on people’s phones.

These protocols have been refined and become second nature.

The Nature of our Destination

And, South Africa, unlike many other destinations, is primarily an outdoors destination. And we all know that being outdoors is the safest place to be as viral transmission is much lower.

We are not a land of colourful bustling markets, picturesque but crowded alleyways. Or fascinating, but all-too-well-visited, museums and art galleries

Rather, we offer:

  • Unspoilt, uncrowded beaches
  • Vast expanses of scenic wilderness
  • Quiet forest or mountain trails
  • And of course prolific game reserves. Where we don’t promise that animals will practise social distancing!

So we are ready to welcome you back whenever you want to venture forth…

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Milandi Joubert

Africa Travel Specialist

Hi I’m Milandi, I’m here to help you plan your ideal holiday experience

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