In a press release, Phaahla noted that while scientific studies have found that the omicron variant is spreading faster than previous waves, the rates of hospitalizations and deaths are "relatively low" in South Africa.
Phaahla advised that even though the omicron variant isn't something to worry about, South Africans should still practice reasonable safety measures and avoid "superspreader" events.
According to infectious disease expert Dr. Donald Dumford, superspreader events don't have an exact criteria. You can have a large gathering of people where very few people (or even none) contract the virus and a family gathering of 12 people or so that could spread the virus to everyone.
Generally, "a large event where there’s a greater amount of transmission than would be expected" qualifies as a superspreader, explained Dumford.
To date, the standard experts are following advises that an infected person at a gathering may infect two to three people, with an infection rate of about 20 percent among family members from an infectious person.
Weddings, funerals and even large family parties such as holiday gatherings or birthday parties are some common examples of regular events that could turn into superspreaders. Whatever the situation, Dumford warned that the more people there are at an event, the higher the risk of infection becomes.
Phaahla said the omicron variant shouldn't stop people from having a "joyous Christmas, and prosperous New Year celebrations" as long as citizens follow safety precautions to curb the spread of the virus. He also asked citizens to help South Africa's hardworking healthcare professionals, who keep the public safe amid the pandemic.
He added that South Africa's Department of Health will continue to closely monitor the situation and record the number of daily infection cases, hospitalizations, mortality and recovery rates. The department will also make necessary recommendations to the National Coronavirus Command Councils in the "best interest of people's lives and livelihoods."
Phaahla also encouraged public transport operators to enforce compliance with mask-wearing at all times, handwashing or hand sanitizing and opening of windows to maintain proper ventilation.
Meanwhile, authorities in the U.K. went on alert after the first omicron case was detected on Nov. 27 in Britain.
Early in December, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson enforced stricter restrictions. He also warned that the variant could overcome the immune defenses of vaccinated individuals.
To date, there has been one omicron-related death confirmed worldwide. Johnson announced the death from the variant earlier in December, adding that the fatality occurred in the United Kingdom. However, scant details have been released to the public.
On Dec. 16, the French government announced that it would enforce more rigid restrictions on travel from the U.K., essentially banning all non-essential trips. In a statement, the government announced that individuals can't "travel for tourism or professional reasons."
U.K. government officials also warned that the country should prepare for "a tidal wave" of new infections linked to the omicron variant.
All arrivals from the U.K. are required to provide negative PCR or antigen tests taken within the previous 24 hours. Travelers also need to quarantine in France for seven days or 48 hours if they have a recent negative COVID-19 test.
The statement also said that all travelers from the U.K. have to use a digital platform to register before their departure. The platform requires travelers to give the address where they will be staying in France. Additionally, the quarantine requirements will be policed.
On Dec. 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that omicron variant could be less severe than the delta strain based on preliminary findings from South Africa, .
The WHO also reported that all cases reported in Europe have been mild or asymptomatic. (Related: Top South African doctor says COVID-19 omicron variant symptoms are "mild.")
Watch the video below to know more about the omicron variant in South Africa.
Check out Outbreak.news for more updates about the omicron variant.