Omicron: early data from South Africa suggests variant results in less severe illness

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Omicron: early data from South Africa suggests variant results in less severe illness

Health professionals in South Africa have welcomed signs which suggest the Omicron variant could result in a less severe disease than first feared.

Early data from the Steve Biko and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria showed that on December 2 only nine of the 42 patients on the Covid ward were being treated for the virus and were in need of oxygen.

The remainder of the patients, all of whom were unvaccinated, had tested positive but were asymptomatic and being treated for other conditions, data from the South African Medical Research Council found.

The report’s author, Dr Fareed Abdullah, told the Financial Times: “My colleagues and I have all noticed this high number of patients on room air.

“You walked into a Covid ward any time in the past 18 months . . . you could hear the oxygen whooshing out of the wall sockets, you could hear the ventilators beeping.

“Now the vast majority of patients are like any other ward.”

In Gauteng province, the province which encapsulates Pretoria, eight per cent of Covid-positive hospital patients are being treated in intensive care units, reports the paper.

This is down from 23 per cent throughout the Delta wave, while just 2 per cent are on ventilators, down from 11 per cent.

The positive sign comes after the top medical adviser in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that there were “encouraging signals” about Omicron.

However, experts have warned the variant could still place significant strain on hospital systems if it infects enough people, even if it is confirmed to cause a milder disease than Delta.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a UK government adviser whose modelling proved influential to the decision to go into lockdown last year, told the Times that data “suggests a doubling time of three days or less” for Omicron.

A similar conclusion is said to have been reached by scientists at the UK Health Security Agency.

On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid informed to the Commons that Omicron had been seeded in community transmission in the UK after cases were discovered which had no links to foreign travel.

Some experts believe the strain could displace Delta to be the dominant strain within weeks.

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