Omicron variant now accounts for fifth of Covid cases in South Africa

The omicron sub-variant BA.2, which appears to be more transmissible than the original strain, accounted for almost a fifth of South African coronavirus cases in January compared with 4% in December, a medical official said.

The sub-variant’s potential impact is unclear, Michelle Groome, head of public health surveillance and response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said on an online press conference on Friday. So far there is no indication that the strain causes more severe disease.

“In terms of severity we would be looking at hospitalizations,” she said. “We would need more data.”

The emergence of BA.2 has coincided with a plateauing of the previous rapid decline in coronavirus cases in South Africa. Some areas are increasing again. Still, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said this is more likely due to the fact that schools have reopened after the Christmas holidays. There has been a rise in the number of cases in people under 20 years old, he said.

South Africa, whose scientists announced the discovery of omicron in November, was the first country to experience a major wave of infections from the variant. The trajectory of its infection wave has been closely watched as a harbinger for what other nations may experience.

So far, that experience has been relatively positive. Deaths in the omicron-driven wave peaked at 24% of what was seen in the delta variant-driven wave, Waasila Jassat, a public health specialist at the NICD, said on the conference call. Hospitalisations peaked at 67%, she said.

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Read: Health minister on gatherings, vaccine mandates and the end of masks in South Africa

Artmotion S.Africa

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