By Rogan Ward
DURBAN, South Africa – Organisers halted a music festival for young people on the South African coast on Wednesday after 36 people tested positive for COVID-19 at the site, the latest impact from a new wave of infections sweeping across the country.
South Africa has found itself in the international spotlight since announcing last week that it had detected the new Omicron variant https://www.reuters.com/world/global-spread-omicron-cases-associated-travel-curbs-2021-11-29, which the World Health Organisation said posed a very high global risk of infection surges.
New infections in the country rose to 4,373 cases on Tuesday from 2,273 on Monday. Omicron is expected to trigger a fourth wave, with daily infections seen topping 10,000 by the end of the week.
The Ballito Rage music festival began on Tuesday in the town of Ballito, north of Durban on South Africa’s eastern coast. Out of 940 people tested for COVID during the first eight hours of the event, 32 guests and four staff were positive.
It was not known whether the 36 were infected with Omicron or another variant.
“We take the safety of all our customers, staff, and suppliers extremely seriously. It is for this reason that the event organisers have taken the decision to cancel the remainder of Ballito Rage,” they said in a statement.
The festival was one of various taking place across South Africa, aimed at high school leavers who have just taken final exams, a seasonal tradition known as matric parties.
Addressing the nation on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa had urged organisers to cancel.
“End-of-year parties and matric year-end raves as well as other celebrations should ideally be postponed, and every person should think twice before attending or organising a gathering,” he said.
In December last year, when infections were also rising, authorities said some of the parties had been “superspreader” events.
Restrictions are in place around South Africa, such as limits to the number of people allowed to gather of 2,000 outdoors and 750 indoors. Organisers said Ballito Rage had “unprecedented COVID-19 protocols in place” and was in compliance with all regulations.
The Delta variant drove South Africa’s third wave of infections, which peaked at more than 26,000 cases per day in early July.
Since the start of the pandemic, the country has reported close to 3 million infections and over 89,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.