• December 9, 2021
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Omicron variant: South Africa on tenterhooks as Covid-19 cases escalate to 255% in one week

Omicron variant: South Africa on tenterhooks as Covid-19 cases escalate to 255% in one week
Covid cases in South Africa have surged by 255% in the past seven days but there is mounting anecdotal evidence that infections with the Omicron variant are provoking milder symptoms than in previous waves.

According to a South African private healthcare provider, the recent rise in infections – which includes the Omicron and Delta variants – has been accompanied by a much smaller increase in admissions to intensive care beds, echoing an earlier report from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD).

On Thursday, Marco Cavaleri, the head of biological threats to health and vaccines strategy at the European Medicines Agency, said the situation in Europe remained “extremely worrying”, primarily due to the spread of the Delta variant, while preliminary data on Omicron suggested it may be more transmissible than Delta but cases appeared to be mostly mild.

“However we need to gather more evidence to determine whether the spectrum of disease severity caused by Omicron is different to that of all the variants that have been circulating so far,” Cavaleri said. “Only time will tell.”

He said it appeared that the currently approved Covid vaccines were considerably less effective in neutralizing Omicron, but “we need to gather a more precise picture around the level of immunity that can be retained”.

The World Health Organization said Africa currently accounted for 46% of reported Omicron cases globally.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said that despite the global concern over Omicron, it was still unclear whether it was more transmissible or caused more severe disease, and he criticized western countries for imposing a travel ban on the country.

South African and other experts have said it is still too early in the Omicron outbreak to determine the longer-term course of the illness, and the younger population profile of South Africa means other countries may not necessarily see the same public health outcomes.

South Africa has struggled at times with initially distinguishing between Covid variants, with some testing equipment unable to quickly spot Omicron without sequencing.

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