Sunday, January 16

Omicron might not be so bad after all

Travel bans, renewed fears of severe lockdowns and worries of the worst to come have received the identification of the new Covid-19 variant, along with some anger directed at scientists and countries accused of acting impulsively and prematurely.

Now, a few weeks later, the question arises: Is Omicron worse than previous variants?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron as a “variant of concern” a few days after its discovery, noting in a statement on November 26 that it was not yet clear whether this variant is more communicable, more severe or yes There is an increased risk of reinfection in people who have previously had Covid-19.


The WHO statement did not mention the other fear, that of whether existing vaccines are effective against Omicron.

“Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings from these studies as they become available,” he said.

“Preliminary data suggests that there is an increase in hospitalization rates in South Africa, but this may be due to the increase in the total number of infected people, rather than the result of a specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that the symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those of other variants.

“Initially reported infections occurred among college students, younger individuals who tend to have milder disease, but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take from days to several weeks,” the WHO noted at the time.

Current situation

Tellingly, SA’s two major private hospital groups have released statements to report their real-life experiences regarding the hospitalization and, in particular, regarding Omicron.

“Having personally seen many of our patients at our Gauteng hospitals, their symptoms are much milder than anything we experienced during the first three waves,” says Dr. Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare.

“Approximately 90% of Covid-19 patients currently in our hospitals do not require any type of oxygen therapy and are considered incidental cases. While we fully recognize that it is still early days, if this trend continues, it would appear that, with a few exceptions for those requiring tertiary care, the fourth wave can be adequately treated at the primary care level. ”

The importance of Friedland’s statement cannot be ignored: he is risking his reputation.

Read: Netcare Seeks Digital Expansion As Covid-19 Pressure Decreases

Netcare found that there appears to be a possible decoupling of the community transmission rate and the rate of hospital admissions, meaning that fewer people end up in the hospital than official infection figures might suggest.

The latest figures from the Department of Health show that 19.83 million tests have been performed in South Africa to date, of which 3.05 million have tested positive for Covid-19. Most recovered (2.86 million) and some 90,000 people have died to date.

Netcare says experience has shown that during the first three waves, the rate of hospital admissions increased in line with the community transmission rate (the number of people who tested positive).

Friedland notes that in the first three waves of the pandemic, Netcare treated 126,000 patients with Covid-19 in its 49 acute hospitals, with 55,000 (44%) patients requiring admission and 26% of these patients were treated in units of intensive care and intensive care. (ICU).

“Significantly, all admitted Covid -19 patients [then] they were sick and needed some kind of oxygen therapy. The high rate of admissions, as well as the high percentage of patients requiring ICU or intensive care, is indicative of the severity of the cases during the first three waves ”, he says.

Read: In the fourth wave, daily Covid-19 infections multiply by five

“From today [Wednesday, December 8], we have 337 positive patients for Covid-19 admitted [72% of these patients are in the Gauteng area and 18% in KwaZulu-Natal]. Of these patients, approximately 10% [33] they are in some form of oxygenation versus 100% in the first three waves.

“Eight of these patients [2%] they are being ventilated and of these, two are cases of primary trauma that are also positive for Covid-19, “says Friedland.

It is Netcare’s policy to test all patients for the virus prior to or at the time of admission. Patients admitted for other primary diagnoses or surgical procedures who test positive for Covid-19, but do not require any form of oxygenation, are considered incidental Covid-19 cases.

Currently, 90% of Covid-19 cases in Netcare hospitals are considered incidental.

“The rapid increase in community transmission compared to previous waves may partly explain this relatively low hospital admissions rate. However, there appears to be a decoupling in terms of the rate of hospital admissions at this early stage in the evolution of the fourth wave, ”says Friedland.

He makes another startling statement: “Of the total 800 Covid-19 positive patients who were admitted since November 15, 75% of the patients were not vaccinated.”


The Mediclinic group says in a statement that its data shows that a fourth wave has started in Gauteng and is moving towards the Western Cape.

“The current wave has not yet had a marked impact on our facilities within these regions. Right now, we are seeing more cases coming to our emergency centers, but only a few require admission for additional care.

“The patient profile for this wave includes younger patients and children under the age of 12, which is significant compared to the previous three waves. These younger patients, in general, are not seriously ill ”, adds Mediclinic.

“We are also looking at a number of asymptomatic patients, who were identified through admission testing for other, unrelated procedures,” says Dr. Gerrit De Villiers, clinical director of Mediclinic Southern Africa.

He adds that, to date, there is not enough information to understand the potential impact of the new Omicron variant on the severity of infections in the country.

Read: Mediclinic emerges stronger from the pandemic

“We are currently aware that it appears to be highly transmissible, leading to a large increase in numbers, but we cannot yet provide further evidence on the severity or impact on the individual.

“Until now, a smaller percentage of patients admitted with Covid-19 required intensive care and ventilation,” says De Villiers.

Both Mediclinic and Netcare emphasize the importance of people taking care of themselves, repeating once again the message of social distancing, wearing a mask, taking a breath, hygiene and vaccination.

Hopefully, sharing the real data will also reduce illogical reactions and hysteria.

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