South Africa: Omicron Caused ’11 Times Fewer’ Hospitalizations than Delta

A young woman reacts as she receives a Pfizer jab against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township
AP Photo/Denis Farrell

“Eleven times fewer” Chinese coronavirus patients — or just 1.7 percent — were hospitalized for symptoms as part of South Africa’s latest wave of the Omicron variant compared to the 19 percent of coronavirus patients admitted to hospitals during South Africa’s equivalent summer wave of the Delta strain, South Africa’s Health Ministry told reporters on Friday, as reported by the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

“Only 1.7 percent of identified Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] cases were admitted to hospital in the second week of infections in the fourth wave, compared with 19 percent in the same week of the third delta-driven wave,” South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a press briefing on December 17.

Preliminary evidence suggests the Omicron strain of the Chinese coronavirus causes milder illness than previous variants, such as Delta, according to Waasila Jassat, a researcher for South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

“We have seen a decrease in a proportion of people who need to be on oxygen [sic],” she said at Friday’s press conference.

“They are at very low levels,” Jassat added.

“The number of Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] hospitalizations in this wave is also being inflated by the fact that milder patients are being admitted because there is room to accommodate them,” Bloomberg revealed of South Africa’s Omicron wave on Friday.

“Many are there for other complaints but are routinely tested,” the U.S.-based news site reported, citing South African health officials.

The number of excess deaths — or fatalities against a historical average — in South Africa “are just below 2,000 a week,” Michelle Groome, NICD’s health surveillance director, told reporters at Friday’s press briefing.

The figure represents “an eighth of their previous peak,” she noted, referring to a peak of excess deaths under South Africa’s wave of the Delta coronavirus variant in summer 2021.

“We are really seeing very small increases in the number of deaths,” Groome remarked on December 17.

South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng, has recorded the nation’s highest Omicron caseload over the past three weeks, though South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla suggested on Friday the region’s virus tally may have reached its “peak.”

“Early indications are that we might have reached the peak in Gauteng,” he told reporters on December 17.

Phaahla’s remarks are supported by the South African Medical Research Council. The panel conducted a wastewater analysis for the week ending December 10 that demonstrated “a declining proportion of viral particles for two successive weeks at the plant that treats water draining from central Pretoria,” Bloomberg reported on Friday.

Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three national capital cities, is located within Gauteng province.

“The volume of virus particles shed by people with Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] has declined for two successive weeks at the Daaspoort wastewater treatment plant, which drains central Pretoria,” the South African Medical Research Council wrote in a report published December 17.

NICD researcher Michelle Groome told reporters on Friday she believed early evidence suggests the Omicron variant of the Chinese coronavirus has already begun to replace the Delta strain in South Africa.

Cases of the discovered a new variant of “Covid-19,” or the Chinese coronavirus, called Omicron surfaced in Bostwana on November 11 before doctors in neighboring South Africa detected the strain on November 14. Omicron is the latest known variant of “Covid-19,” which is the name of the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a type of coronavirus. Delta was the latest known strain of the Chinese coronavirus before Omicron’s discovery last month. Scientists first detected the Delta variant in India in December 2020. It remains the most prevalent strain of SARS CoV-2 in coronavirus patients worldwide.


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