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South African president tests positive for COVID-19, suffers mild symptoms

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the media after meeting with his Kenyan counterpart in Pretoria, South Africa, on Nov. 23.
(Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is receiving treatment for mild COVID-19 symptoms after testing positive for the disease Sunday, his office said.

Ramaphosa started feeling unwell, and a test confirmed that he had COVID-19, a statement from the president’s office announced.

He is self-isolating in Cape Town and is being monitored by the South African Military Health Service, the statement said. He has delegated all responsibilities to Deputy President David Mabuza for the next week.

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Ramaphosa, 69, is fully vaccinated. The statement didn’t say whether he had been infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was first detected in South Africa.

Last week, Ramaphosa visited four West African countries. He and all members of his delegation were tested for the coronavirus in each of the countries during the trip. Some in the delegation tested positive in Nigeria and returned directly to South Africa. Throughout the rest of the trip, Ramaphosa and his delegation tested negative. Ramaphosa returned from Senegal on Wednesday.

Ramaphosa said his own infection serves as a caution to all people in South Africa to be vaccinated and remain vigilant against exposure, the statement said. Vaccination remains the best protection against severe illness and hospitalization, it said.

With immunity waning and the Omicron variant looming, many scientists are saying the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ should include a booster shot.

People in South Africa who have had contact with Ramaphosa were advised to watch for symptoms or to have themselves tested, the statement said.

South Africa is currently battling a rapid coronavirus resurgence driven by the Omicron variant, health officials say.

The country confirmed more than 18,000 new cases Sunday night. More than 70% of the cases are estimated to be from Omicron, according to genetic sequencing surveys.

After a period of low transmission of about 200 new cases per day in early November, the number began rising dramatically. On Nov. 25, scientists in southern Africa confirmed the Omicron variant, which has more than 50 mutations. Omicron appears to be highly transmissible and has quickly become dominant in the country.

So far, the majority of cases have been relatively mild and the percentage of severe cases needing oxygen have been low, doctors say.


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