Corona in South Africa: Cautious optimism – despite Omikron
Status: 22.12.2021 6:30 p.m.
The omicron variant was discovered in South Africa four weeks ago. It is now the predominant form of virus there. According to a new study, however, it causes milder courses than previous variants.
By Karin Wehrheim, ARD Studio South Africa
The message after four weeks of Omikron is optimistic: “In South Africa, Omikron is behaving in ways that are less severe,” said Cheryl Cohen, one of the authors of the new study, at a virtual press conference for the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD ).
The researchers compared proven omicron cases with delta cases from the beginning of October to the end of November. “During that time, the chance of going to the hospital with Omikron was 80 percent less than if you didn’t have Omikron,” explains Cohen.
Less severe cases, lower death rate
The proportion of severe cases in hospitals was also lower than with the previous corona variants. The patients only had to be hospitalized for about half as long, fewer were ventilated and fewer died. While in the second and third waves there were more than 20 percent deaths among Covid 19 patients in the South African clinics, so far with Omikron it is only six percent.
“The death rate is currently quite low,” said Waasila Jassat of the NICD. “It’s a little higher in government hospitals than in private clinics, but everywhere it’s lower than at any other time in the pandemic.”
Reasons have yet to be explored
Why this is the case in South Africa is still a mystery to the scientists. Possible reasons, according to Jassat, could be “that so many people are immune because they have been vaccinated or have been infected before. Or it could be because Omikron is less aggressive. But we need more studies to find out.”
According to the experts, up to 70 percent of people in South Africa have already recovered. One thing is clear: Omikron is now the predominant variant throughout South Africa. 98 percent of sequenced positive tests are omicrons. It took two weeks in the Gauteng metropolitan region around Johannesburg and Pretoria, and twice as fast in the other regions.
But, says Michelle Groome, head of health control at the NICD, “in Gauteng we have seen a declining number of positive cases since this week. All indications suggest that we have already passed the peak of the wave here. Also stabilized in the neighboring provinces it up or down “.
More cases around Cape Town and Durban
However, the provinces around Cape Town and Durban are reporting increasing numbers. Many South Africans now spend Christmas and summer holidays there with large families and on the beach. Groome is nevertheless optimistic: “We have been doing this for almost two years now and we know what works. We have seen that our vaccination program works, the wearing of masks, minimum distance and the limitation of large gatherings.”
South Africa has been in lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, but currently only at level 1, even with Omikron, the restrictions, which apply equally to everyone, have not been tightened. Almost 39 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.
Four weeks of Omikron in South Africa – study sees milder course
Karin Wehrheim, ARD Johannesburg, 22.12.2021 · 17:47