South Africa continues to report ‘mild disease' as omicron surges

“Having personally seen many of our patients across our Gauteng hospitals, their symptoms are far milder than anything we experienced during the first three waves,” Dr Richard Friedland said – AP Photo/ Shiraaz Mohamed

South African hospitals are continuing to report “far milder” symptoms from the new omicron variant, offering a ray of hope almost two years into the pandemic.

Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare, the largest private health care provider in South Africa, told The Telegraph that early trends during the country’s fourth wave indicated a “far less severe form” of Covid-19.

During the first three waves, 100 per cent of the 55,000 Covid-19 patients hospitalised in Netcare facilities needed oxygen. So far, during the new wave, only 10 per cent of 337 hospitalised patients need oxygen.

Dr Friedland said that 90 per cent of Covid-19 cases in the company’s 49 different hospitals were considered “incidental”, meaning that patients had come in for other problems and tested positive for Covid-19.

“Having personally seen many of our patients across our Gauteng hospitals, their symptoms are far milder than anything we experienced during the first three waves,” Dr Friedland said, referencing the South African region currently experiencing a dramatic surge of omicron variant infections.

“While we fully recognise that it is still early days, if this trend continues, it would appear that with a few exceptions of those requiring tertiary care, the fourth wave can be adequately treated at a primary care level,” he added.

However, the health care provider stressed that these were only preliminary results from three weeks of data and that the situation could change. Typically, it takes about five to six weeks from the start of infections for severe cases to present.

Moreover, the company’s 49 private hospitals generally see middle and upper class South African patients, which skews the statistics as worse cases could be going underreported in the country’s vast impoverished townships.

Since the highly mutated variant was first detected in southern Africa last month it has triggered global alarm and led to Western nations like the UK and the US red listing or banning travel from swathes of the continent.

The seven-day moving average of daily new cases in South Africa rose to more than 10,000 last week, from less than 300 three weeks ago.

South Africa's top scientists – skilled from decades of research into HIV and other infectious diseases – are racing to determine whether omicron is more contagious, can cause more severe illness or is more resistant to existing vaccines.

While experts say that it is still “too early” to tell, there have been competing reports about the severity of the new variant.

Some have said that omicron seems to be hitting young people more. Dr Friedland said that the median age of Covid-19 patients admitted to their hospitals was 38.5 years old compared to 54-years-old during the last three waves.

Out of about 800 Covid-19 positive patients admitted to Netcare’s hospitals since 15 November, 75 per cent of patients were unvaccinated, the company said.

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