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South African Hospitalization Rates Plunge Despite Omicron Onslaught: ‘They Are At Very Low Levels’

South African Hospitalization Rates Plunge Despite Omicron Onslaught: ‘They Are At Very Low Levels’

Omicron hospitalization

A woman carries a baby in a Santa hat at a Johannesburg mall, Dec. 17, 2021. South Africa is battling a fourth wave of coronavirus fueled by the omicron variant. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

The hospitalization rate of South Africans infected with the omicron variant is less than 80 percent compared to other variants of the disease, according to a study released by the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Covid-19 infections in South Africa have spiked in the fourth wave of the pandemic after scientists identified the new omicron variant there on Nov. 25, but hospitalizations have remained low compared to the first, second, and third wave, according to the country’s health minister, Joe Phaahla.

In the U.S., the omicron variant has quickly overtaken the delta variant and accounts for up to 90 percent of new cases, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC).

However, U.S. hospitals report that they are filling up again while still battling the delta variant and trying to manage the ongoing shortage of personnel, NBC reported. On Dec. 12, multiple Minneaplois hospitals pleaded for help in a full-page newspaper ad. “We’re heartbroken. We’re overwhelmed,” the ad said, asking, “How does this happen in 2021?” It called for people to get vaccinated, wear masks, practice social distancing and get tested if they are exposed or feeling sick.

Compared to delta infections in South Africa between April and November, omicron infections are associated with a 70 percent lower risk of severe disease, according to the study carried out by a group of scientists from the NICD and major institutions including the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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Omicron data was collected for October and November.

“Compellingly, together our data really suggest a positive story of a reduced severity of Omicron compared to other variants,” said Professor Cheryl Cohen of the NICD.

Debate over how virulent the omicron variant can get is at the heart of the scientific and political debate in many countries as governments grapple with how to respond to the spread of the variant while researchers race to understand it.

Only 1.7 percent of people identified with covid-19 in South Africa were admitted to the hospital in the second week of infections in the fourth wave compared with 19 percent in the same week of the third delta-driven wave, according to local data cited by Bloomberg.

“We have seen a decrease in a proportion of people who need to be on oxygen,” said Waasila Jassat, a researcher with the NICD, News24 reported. “They are at very low levels.”

An estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of people in South Africa have had a prior covid-19 infection, Cohen told Reuters.

South Africa has been at the forefront of the omicron wave and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.

Data from South Africa indicates that omicron may cause less severe illness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

To ramp up the response to the omicron variant and the rise in cases, WHO is supporting countries to improve genomic surveillance to track the virus and detect other potential variants of concern.

PHOTO: A woman wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 as she carries a baby in a Santa Claus hat at a Johannesburg mall, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. South Africa is currently battling the resurgence of the coronavirus fueled by the omicron variant. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)