11 TIMES fewer Covid patients in Omicron-ravaged South Africa are being admitted to hospital
Eleven times fewer patients diagnosed with Covid in Omicron-stricken South Africa are being admitted to hospital now than in the summer, experts claimed today.
The country’s health minister Joe Phaahla revealed 1.7 per cent of Covid cases went on to be hospitalised during the second week of the current wave. For comparison, he said the equivalent figure was 19 per cent in the second week of South Africa’s Delta crisis.
It comes as 4,000 fewer new cases were reported in the country in the past 24 hours. A total of 20,713 new infections were reported today, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
A further 35 Covid-related deaths were also recorded on Friday, bringing total fatalities to 90,297.
Mr Phaahla told a press conference there were early indications that ‘the peak has been reached’ in Gauteng, which was first to feel the full force of the variant.
The province’s daily infections have started to trend downwards, about three weeks after the ultra-infectious variant took hold.
Higher immunity levels due to vaccination and previous infection now than when Delta took off are thought to be behind the lower hospitalisation rate.
But Mr Phaahla suggested Omicron may have evolved to be milder, bolstering claims made by doctors treating patients on the frontline.
Public health official Wassila Jassat, who also attended the conference, said South Africa had fewer patients needing oxygen now than when Delta emerged. She added that patients were hospitalised for a shorter period.
It is the latest glimmer of hope for Britain that Omicron may be milder than first feared, suggesting that its rapid rise won’t cripple the health service in the coming weeks – despite gloomy projections.
But Professor Chris Whitty has warned against making comparisons between the two countries, pointing out that a far larger proportion of South Africa’s population is young and less vulnerable compared to the UK.
Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases showed that less than two per cent of patients were being hospitalised in the second week of the Omicron wave in South Africa. For comparison, when the Delta wave struck it was 12 per cent
Graph shows: the proportion of Omicron patients admitted to intensive care units in Guateng, the epicentre of South Africa’s fourth wave, during the Omicron wave (left) and Delta wave (right)
Graph shows: the proportion of Omicron patients put on ventilators in Guateng, the epicentre of South Africa’s fourth wave, during the Omicron wave (left) and Delta wave (right)
Daily Covid cases in South Africa have risen 10 per cent in a week today. But the country is currently enjoying a public holiday, which likely skewed the figures
Hospitalisations in the country fell 23.4 per cent in a week today after another 374 people were admitted. But this could also be down to the holiday, with fewer people available to process data
Graph shows: The number of cases (left), hospitalisations (central) and intensive care admissions (right) from the start of the Delta (blue lines) and Omicron (red lines) waves in South Africa
Health minister Joe Phaahla said in a press conference today that 1.7 per cent of Covid cases were currently being admitted to hospital. For comparison, he said it was 19 per cent during the second wave. Mr Phaahla is pictured above getting a Covid jab
Mr Phaahla did not present an analysis to back up his suggestion that a lower proportion of patients were being hospitalised now than when Delta took off.
But two-thirds more swabs were being carried out every day at this point during the Omicron wave than for Delta which may have skewed the analysis.
Officials figures show some 54,800 tests were carried out every day in the second week of the current wave, compared to 32,600 in the second week of the Delta wave.
Omicron was first detected in South Africa on November 25, and Delta was first detected on May 8.
Its cases rocketed when Omicron first struck the country, and earlier this week reached a record high of almost 26,000 infections reported in a single day. Yesterday they rose 10 per cent week-on-week after another 24,700 were recorded.
Hospitalisations in the country also dipped yesterday compared to the same time last week, but they are trending upwards to about 600 admissions a day from less than 100 before Omicron emerged.
But they are still below hospitalisations during the country’s second wave, which surged above 700 a day.
Doctors on the frontlines say that fewer patients need to be admitted to ICU or receive oxygen than when Delta took off, suggesting it may be more mild.
Mr Phaahla told the conference: ‘We believe that [the reduced severity] might not necessarily just be that Omicron is less virulent.’
He said it also depends ‘coverage of vaccination’ and ‘natural immunity’, adding: ‘That’s why we are seeing mild illness.’
He also pointed to a slowdown in cases in Gauteng, where the average number of daily infections has dipped from 10,448 at the peak four days ago to 9,235 yesterday.
He said: ‘In terms of case numbers and percentage of testing positive, we are seeing a decrease in Gauteng, and early indications suggest that the peak has been reached, but there is rapid increase in the other provinces.’
Professor Whitty has warned against comparisons with South Africa, however, telling a gloomy Downing Street press conference on Wednesday that it was hard to compare the two.
He said: ‘I think there has been a certain amount of commentary about the fact that doctors and scientists from South Africa… have indicated that there may be some reduction in the hospitalisation rates they are seeing with Omicron.
‘I want to put a really serious caution on this because I think it has been overinterpreted.
‘The amount of immunity for this wave because of prior Delta wave and vaccination is far higher than it was for their last wave and, therefore, the fact they have a lower hospitalisation rate this time is unsurprising.
‘That doesn’t mean there is some degree of milder disease — that is possible — but I think there is a danger that people have overinterpreted this to say this is not a problem and there’s nothing to worry about. I want to be clear, I am afraid this is going to be a problem.’