Omicron: Covid-19 hospital admission rate plunges in South Africa

·2-min read
A woman is vaccinated in South Africa (AP)
A woman is vaccinated in South Africa (AP)

Hospital admissions have plunged in South Africa as evidence continues to suggest that Omicron causes less severe illness than previous variants.

Across all age groups, only 1.7 per cent of identified Covid-19 cases were admitted to hospital in the second week of infections during the current fourth wave.

This compares with 19 per cent in the same week of the third Delta-driven wave, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a press conference.

More than 70 per cent of citizens are believed to have had Covid-19, giving them some level of antibody protection.

However, new cases in the second week of the current wave – driven by Omicron - were at 20,000 a day, compared with 4,400 in the same week of the third wave, the data shows.

It comes as coronavirus cases in the Gauteng province of the country, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, fell last week for the first time since the alarm was raised about Omicron in November.

South Africa, the country worst affected by the pandemic on the African continent in terms of confirmed infections and deaths, alerted the world to Omicron.

The variant has since been detected in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Scientists suspect Omicron is more transmissible given its rapid spread. However, they caution that it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about the severity of the illness it causes.

Data released by the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reveals that there are around 7,600 people with Covid-19 in South African hospitals, which is about 40 per cent of the peak in the second or third waves.

Excess deaths are just below 2,000 a week, an eighth of their previous peak.

Michelle Groome, head of health surveillance for the NICD, said: “We are really seeing very small increases in the number of deaths”.

More than 90 per cent of hospital deaths were among the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, News24 reported.

The NICD reported 26,976 new cases on Thursday, surpassing a peak of 26,485 in early July during a third wave driven by the then-dominant Delta strain.

The NICD also reported another 54 Covid-19 related deaths and an additional 620 hospital admissions.

Some anecdotal accounts by doctors and researchers in South Africa suggest Omicron is mainly causing mild infections locally, but that could also be explained by high levels of previous COVID-19 infection and the fact that around 38 per cent of the country’s adult population are now fully vaccinated.

A major real-world study released on Tuesday found Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine had been less effective at combatting hospitalisation since Omicron emerged.

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