When word of the new coronavirus variant Omicron first emerged late last month, President Joe Biden was vacationing at a billionaire’s mansion in Nantucket. By the day after Thanksgiving, a growing sense of fear over the unknown strain prompted a 900-point selloff in the Dow.
By the following week, terror had swept the country, leading state governors to encourage masking (top U.S. immunologist Anthony Fauci went so far as to say even those with booster shots should wear masks indoors in public settings), and talk began to swirl of potential new lockdowns. President Joe Biden ordered an expansive lockdown on travel into the U.S.
But early data is showing that Omicron may not be as bad as the original COVID-19, or the variant Delta, according to a new report. With Omicron, which emerged in South Africa and is spreading rapidly there, the symptoms appear to be less severe.
“Researchers at a major hospital complex in Pretoria reported that their patients with the coronavirus are much less sick than those they have treated before, and that other hospitals are seeing the same trends,” The New York Times reported. “In fact, they said, most of their infected patients were admitted for other reasons and have no Covid symptoms.”
The Times reported that “scientists cautioned against placing too much stock in either the potential good news of less severity,” but cited a new report offering an optimistic view.
“A report from doctors at the Steve Biko Academic and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, offers the strongest support yet for a more hopeful take on Omicron, though its author, Dr. Fareed Abdullah, gave reasons to be wary of drawing conclusions,” the Times reported. More from the outlet:
Dr. Abdullah, director of the Office of H.I.V./Aids and Tuberculosis Research at the South African Medical Research Council, looked at the 42 patients with coronavirus who were in the hospital last Thursday, and found that 29 of them, 70 percent, were breathing ordinary air. Of the 13 using supplemental oxygen, four had it for reasons unrelated to Covid.
Only one of the 42 was in intensive care, in line with figures released last week by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, showing that only 106 patients were in intensive care over the prior two weeks, despite the surge in infections.
After the variant emerged, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Omicron poses a “very high” global risk and could bypass even those who have been vaccinated. The strain is a “highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations… some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility,” the U.N. agency said.
“The overall global risk related to the new variant … is assessed as very high,” WHO said, adding that Omicron “has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic.”
But a doctor in South Africa said shortly after Omicron emerged that’s not what he was seeing. “A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain has said that symptoms of the Omicron variant appear to be mild and could be treated at home,” according to The Sun newspaper. “Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that on 18 November she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit ‘very mild.'”
“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” Coetzee told The Telegraph.
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