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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is being treated for mild symptoms of Covid-19 after he tested positive for the virus on Sunday, in a country that has been battling one of the first waves of infections worldwide caused by the Omicron variant.

Ramaphosa, who has been vaccinated, is in “good spirits” in self-isolation in Cape Town and has handed over his duties for the week to David Mabuza, his deputy, South Africa’s presidency said in a statement.

South Africa recorded just over 18,000 new daily cases on Sunday, representing nearly 29 per cent of tests having come back positive for the virus, after a sharp increase in infections in the weeks since scientists in the country and in Botswana first spotted the Omicron variant in local samples.

Ramaphosa’s own infection “serves as a caution to all people in the country to be vaccinated and remain vigilant against exposure”, the office of the head of state said. “Vaccination remains the best protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.”

Despite signs that Omicron evades some immunity and leads to more reinfections, many South African scientists and medics have drawn hope from what have so far been relatively low rates of severe cases in hospitals, but they caution that it is still early days. There have been signs of a slowdown in infections in Gauteng, the country’s industrial hub where the first Omicron cases were recorded.

Read more about Cyril Ramaphosa.

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