The Omicron variant of Covid-19 seems to be reinfecting folks at a better fee than earlier strains, consultants in South Africa have stated, as public well being officers and scientists from around the globe intently monitor developments within the nation the place Omicron was first recognized.
Because the EU’s public well being company warned that Omicron may trigger greater than half of all new Covid infections in Europe inside the subsequent few months, proof was rising, nonetheless, that vaccines nonetheless seem to supply safety in opposition to severe sickness.
“We consider that earlier an infection doesn’t present safety from Omicron,” stated Anne von Gottberg, an knowledgeable on the Nationwide Institute for Communicable Ailments in South Africa.
In mid-November South Africa was reporting about 300 Covid instances a day. On Wednesday it reported 8,561 new instances, up from 4,373 the day earlier than and a couple of,273 on Monday.
Outlining early analysis into the newly emerged variant, Von Gottberg stated medical doctors have been seeing “a rise for Omicron reinfections [of Covid-19]”.
She stated: “We consider the variety of instances will enhance exponentially in all provinces of the nation. We consider that vaccines will nonetheless, nonetheless, shield in opposition to extreme illness. Vaccines have all the time held out to guard in opposition to severe illness, hospitalisations and dying.”
Scientists from the identical institute have stated preliminary information means that Omicron might provoke much less extreme sickness than earlier strains though that could be skewed by the truth that lots of the first Omicron instances have been recognized in youthful people or detected in very just lately screened travellers.
However at the same time as South Africans have rushed to get vaccinated – nudged by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s warning on Sunday that stricter lockdowns might need to be imposed if vaccination charges don’t enhance – Aslam Dasoo of the Progressive Well being Discussion board warned that the current enhance in vaccinations could also be inadequate.
“It’s not sufficient to make a dent within the fourth wave,” he instructed the nation’s Information 24 information channel. “The take a look at positivity fee was 1% final Monday. And it’s now within the double digits. We’re within the tooth of the fourth wave. Everybody you already know is a possible threat to you,” he stated.
Medical doctors in Gauteng province stated Covid sufferers have been presenting with flu-like signs together with a dry cough that may very well be handled at dwelling.
On Tuesday the epidemiologist Prof Salim Abdool Karim stated present vaccines nonetheless supplied excessive ranges of safety in opposition to hospitalisation and dying.
The emergence of Omicron has led to a steep rise within the variety of folks looking for vaccination in a rustic the place solely 15% of the inhabitants – 9 million folks – has had two doses.
In addition to an exponential leap in case numbers, South Africa has seen a pointy enhance in its case positivity fee – the variety of these examined who take a look at optimistic – in the identical interval, from 10.7% to 16.5%, with the positivity fee in Gauteng reaching 19%.
Much more worrying has been the hospitalisation fee in Gauteng, which jumped by 144% final week, doubling roughly each six days.
South Africa has reported near 3m Covid infections throughout the pandemic and greater than 89,000 deaths, probably the most on the African continent.
Whereas a lot of the give attention to Omicron has up to now been on Gauteng province, there have been indications that the Omicron variant was taking maintain elsewhere in South Africa.
In Cape City on Thursday morning, Dr Keith Cloete, the pinnacle of the Western Cape well being division, introduced that the nation’s southernmost province had entered a brand new wave of Covid-19.
“The week-on-week share change within the seven-day transferring common of recent instances has been greater than 20% for greater than every week, indicating that we’ve got formally entered a resurgence,” he stated, including: “A really giant enhance in absolute numbers is anticipated for the approaching weeks.”
Though solely 16 instances of Omicron have been positively recognized within the province, Cloete stated that based mostly on a proxy marker in PCR assessments, the Omicron variant may very well be prevalent in as a lot as 80% of the brand new instances within the final week.
And whereas a lot has been written concerning the challenge of an absence of vaccines within the growing world, this has not been the principle challenge in South Africa.
For a number of months, provide there has outstripped demand and in late November the federal government requested Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer to delay the supply of vaccines as they’d an excessive amount of inventory.
The most recent figures counsel some 36.3% of adults are totally vaccinated (though 64% of over-60s have had at the least one dose). Vaccination, nonetheless, is lowest amongst youthful age teams. Solely 26% of South Africans between 18 and 34 – the cohort at the moment displaying the best fee of Omicron infections – have had one vaccine dose.
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