South African doctors suggest omicron Covid is milder and more contagious than delta

Doctors in South Africa see dozens of patients a day with the omicron variant of Covid who are not sick enough to be admitted to hospital.

The omicron variant first appeared in South Africa last month, and medics and scientists there say signs are rather mild compared to the previous delta variant.

Dr. Unben Pillay sees dozens of patients a day, but said they all show milder symptoms than those who have had delta.

But he and other nurses believe the Omicron variant is contagious and spreads faster than Delta.

Omicron has been found to contain more than 30 mutations in its spike protein, which is thought to enable it to evade natural immunity and the vaccine, and make it more contagious than Delta.

They are able to manage the disease at home, Dr Pillai said of his omicron patients, who also include the elderly and those with existing health problems.

“Most of them recovered during the 10- to 14-day isolation period.”

Dr. Pillai works in Gauteng Province – the most populous region of South Africa with a population of 16 million, which includes the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.

The county saw the number of new Covid cases rise 400 percent in the first week of December, and tests showed Omicron was responsible for more than 90 percent of them, according to health officials.

Dr. Pillai said his Delta patients during the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic had difficulty breathing and low oxygen levels, and that “many require hospitalization within days.”

He said his Omicron patients have flu-like symptoms, such as body aches and coughs.

In the weeks since Omicron was first introduced in South Africa, doctors reported similar symptoms in patients.

Only about 30 percent of people hospitalized with Covid in recent weeks have fallen seriously ill, South Africa’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases said, less than half the rate that occurred during the first weeks of previous waves of the epidemic.

The average hospital stay became shorter from eight days to about 2.8 days.

Three percent of hospitalized Covid patients died recently, down from about 20 percent during previous outbreaks.

“Right now, almost everything indicates that it is a milder disease,” said Willem Hanekum, director of the Africa Health Research Institute, citing NIHR figures and other reports.

“It’s early days, and we need to get the final data. Hospitalizations and deaths often happen later, and there’s only two weeks left on this wave.”

Last month, Dr Angelique Coetzee – the South African doctor who first sounded the alarm about Omicron – told the BBC that Omicron patients she saw also experienced what she described as “extremely mild” symptoms.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases continues to rise. South Africa confirmed 22,400 new cases on Thursday and 19,000 on Friday, up from about 200 a day a few weeks ago.

Health Minister Jo Bhala said on Friday that the new increase infected 90,000 people last month.

“It is Omicron that has driven the resurgence,” he added, citing studies that say Omicron caused 70 per cent of new cases across South Africa.

Caution should be exercised until more information about omicron is known.

In the UK, Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, has advised people with mild symptoms – especially those who live and work with those at high risk of contracting Covid – to get tested because they may misdiagnose Covid as a cold. .

Additional Reports from AP

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