Cases of COVID-19 appear to be tapering off after reaching a peak in South Africa, where the new variant dubbed Omicron was first discovered, according to a new report.
“Gauteng province has seen a meteoric rise infections since mid-November, when the first cases of the highly-evolved strain started appearing — jumping from 58 to 11,703 as of yesterday,” The Daily Mail reported. But the U.K. paper said data suggests the spread may have already peaked, which a British expert hailed as “tentative good news.”
Professor Christina Pagel, a mathematician at University College London who has been following the outbreak, said infections had been rising by about 25% a day since November 15, but “over the last four days have dipped below this trend, suggesting cases may be rounding off their previous exponential rise,” the Mail said.
The Mail also said an analysis of hospitalizations in South Africa suggests Omicron is causing less severe symptoms than previous variants and the original virus. “The variant has caused 60 percent fewer hospitalized patients going to intensive care in Gauteng compared to Delta,” said the paper.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said “the number of [hospital] admissions is very low” in South Africa compared with the Delta wave, even though the number of infections has been higher than with the previous strain.
When word of the new variant first emerged, panic ensued.
The 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.
And early data showed that Omicron may not be as bad as the original COVID-19, or the variant Delta. “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.”