South Africa: what have they learned about Omicron Covid variant so far - and how fast are cases rising?
South Africa is seeing a surge in coronavirus infections but much of the country still remains vulnerable to the disease.
On Thursday 2 December the country recorded 11,535 new infections - nearly 3,000 more than the day before, representing a 26% jump in case numbers.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is still unclear whether the sharp rise in cases is directly linked to the new variant or because of other factors.
Omicron has already been identified in at least 24 countries, including the UK, but scientists believe it will take a number of weeks to see how it is developing.
Health officials are now closely monitoring the situation in South Africa to better understand the threat posed by the mutation.
How many people are in hospital with Covid?
Even before the discovery of the new variant, South Africa had already been badly hit by coronavirus.
The country of approximately 60 million has recorded just under three million positive cases of the disease since the start of the pandemic, resulting in 89,915 deaths, according to data sourced from Our World in Data.
As cases now continue to rise, another wave of infections will likely bring about a surge in hospital admissions. The latest figures from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) suggest they are already rising.
The NICD records admissions in weekly increments. There have been 1,802 people admitted to hospital so far in the week ending 4 December (week 48) – 48% more than the week before, with one day still to go.
In week 47, which ended on 27 November, there were 1,215 admissions.
Has there been an increase in Covid related deaths?
There is no clear uptick in deaths yet. On Thursday 2 December, 44 deaths were reported, according to Our World in Data. While that was a 36% increase on Wednesday’s figures, when 28 were reported, it was significantly lower than the 114 recorded a week earlier on 25 November.
How many people have been vaccinated?
Much of South Africa’s population remains vulnerable to the disease. As of 2 December, just a quarter of the country is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
Of the 60 million population, just 14.8 million people are fully vaccinated with two doses, leaving over 45.2 million people at risk.
South Africa is not the only country on the continent lagging behind in the vaccine rollout. Last month we revealed how 48 countries in Africa were set to miss the Covid-19 Task Force target of having fully vaccinated at least 40% of their population by the end of the year.
Is Omicron deadlier than other variants?
In its latest statement regarding the Omicron variant found in South Africa, WHO said it was still unclear whether the rise in cases was directly linked to the new variant.
The statement said: “The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.
“It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.
“Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.
“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.”
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