Wednesday, January 26

Crisis Times for South African Hospitals as Omicron Cases Rise


South African hospitals are bracing for a surge in admissions as the new omicron variant fuels a sharp rise in coronavirus infections and as more evidence emerges about the severity of the disease caused by the strain.

The nation’s seven-day moving average of daily new cases rose to 10,055 last week, from less than 300 three weeks earlier. Hospitalizations also increased, but remain relatively low, with 3,268 admissions on Sunday. Whether there will be a flood of new patients is the most important question.

Severe symptoms in patients who contracted previous variants typically developed between one and three weeks after being diagnosed, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. And while anecdotal evidence and initial data analysis from a hospital complex suggest that omicron may cause milder illness, especially among those who have been previously vaccinated or infected, it will become clearer this week or next if that’s the case. .

“Our admissions are doubling every day,” said Fareed Abdullah, director of the South African Medical Research Council and infectious disease physician at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, the capital. Still, although it is too early to tell, the current wave of infections appears to be different from previous ones, he said.

The first omicron mutations were detected in South Africa and neighboring Botswana last month, and their discovery was formally announced on November 25. The variant is now the overwhelmingly dominant in South Africa.

Authorities say they are ready for an influx of patients.

“We have activated resurgence plans at all healthcare facilities,” said Ramphelane Morewane, chief director of the health department. “All the hospital beds that were available in the third wave are being prepared for this wave. We have strategic reserves in hospitals to avoid equipment shortages ”.

Hospitals were stretched to the limit during previous coronavirus waves, with reports of ambulances going from one facility to another trying to find space for seriously ill patients and oxygen supplies were running low. They currently have extensive capacity, including in the central province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria and is the global epicenter of the omicron outbreak.

Young patients

Netcare, which operates the largest private healthcare network in South Africa, had around 200 Covid-19 patients at the end of last week, despite infections increasing rapidly, indicating that the majority of cases were mild to moderate, according to Richard Friedland, its CEO. There have been so-called progressive infections in people who had been vaccinated, most of them in people under the age of 30, he said.

As many as 68% of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the Pretoria area last month were under the age of 40, an analysis of 640 NICD admissions showed. The data was preliminary and trends may change, the institute said. People over 50 made up 66.1% of those admitted during the third wave earlier this year.

The risk of large numbers of people becoming seriously ill can be compounded by relatively low inoculation rates. About a quarter of the population of 60 million has been fully vaccinated so far, even though the country has a large number of vaccines. The government renewed a campaign over the weekend to try to improve acceptance rates.

Authorities are also concerned about the super spreader events leading up to the end of the year holiday season.

“This fourth wave, which we have started, can be handled without too many casualties and loss of life if we observe the security measures, the greatest risk is the meetings, especially inside,” said Health Minister Joe Phaahla. “We can save our loved ones, friends and co-workers by getting vaccinated.”

© 2021 Bloomberg


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