Hospitals and general practitioners in southern Africa are increasingly reporting that symptoms of the aggressive new strain of Covid Omicron are “unusual but very mild,” according to various media outlets in South Africa over the weekend.
About 90% of all new infections in the Johannesburg area are now caused by the Omicron strain but, so far, the death rate from Covid and even hospital admissions do not appear to be increasing significantly, report local media.
So some experts are cautiously optimistic that – while Omicron turns out to be less deadly but more contagious and dominant than the Delta variant – the new mutation may in fact be a blessing in the sky.
Hundreds of infected people across southern Africa are said to have complained of nausea, headaches, fatigue and an elevated pulse, but none appear to suffer from a loss of taste or smell, which has been reported. the case with most other Covid mutations.
In addition, more and more doctors across southern Africa are confirming that most patients infected with Omicron simply have a severe headache, nausea or dizziness.
Dr Angelique Coetzee told various newspapers in South Africa: “The symptoms are so different and so mild from [non-Omicron] Covid patients that I have treated before.
A general practitioner for more than three decades and president of the South African Medical Association, she was the first African doctor to suggest to local authorities that Covid had mutated into a new strain.
Coetzee reportedly said the symptoms “did not make immediate sense”, with patients including young people of different backgrounds and ethnicities tired and a young child with a high pulse.
Blessing in the sky
Looking at the first data from southern Africa, virologist Marc van Ranst said over the weekend that “if the omicron variant is less pathogenic but with greater infectivity, allowing Omicron to replace Delta, that would be very positive” .
The WHO has warned that preliminary evidence suggests the variant has an increased risk of reinfection and may spread faster than other strains, including Delta.
They said there is early evidence suggesting that Omicron has an “increased risk of reinfection” and its rapid spread in South Africa suggests it has a “growth advantage”.
“It is extremely important that we closely monitor the clinical data of Omicron patients in South Africa and around the world,” said Van Ranst.
The variant has over 30 mutations – about twice as many as the Delta variant – that make it more transmissible and escape the protection conferred by a previous infection or vaccination.
Meanwhile, officials in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, the Czech Republic, Italy as well as the UK have confirmed that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has emerged in their respective countries, leaving governments around the world are scrambling to stop the spread.
Almost two years after the start of the pandemic that killed more than 5 million people around the world, countries are on high alert.
In the Netherlands, 61 people on two flights from Cape Town to South Africa tested positive for Covid upon arrival in Amsterdam.
Race to refine vaccines
More testing is needed and experts say it can take weeks before a clear picture emerges.
Therefore, work is underway to examine the possibility of fine-tuning the vaccines. Novavax said it “has already started the development of a new advanced recombinant protein based on the known genetic sequence of Omicron and will be ready to start testing and manufacturing in the coming weeks”.
Moderna said: “Since the start of 2021, Moderna has put forward a comprehensive strategy to anticipate the new variants of concern.
“This strategy includes three levels of response if the currently authorized booster dose of 50 µg (micrograms) of mRNA-1273 proves insufficient to enhance the waning immunity against the Omicron variant. “
In the meantime, Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced a list of new Covid precautionary measures, including restrictions for those arriving in the UK, stricter rules on wearing masks in public places and a ‘coup de “thumbs up to the booster program” for vaccination.
In a meeting the British would not have hoped for, Johnson held a press conference in Downing Street alongside UK Scientific Director Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty this afternoon.
In order to “act early” to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant, after the first two cases were identified in Nottingham and Essex yesterday, Johnson announced the following new Covid measures.
Asked yesterday if the appearance of the new variant, which the World Health Organization has classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern, would hamper people’s Christmas plans, Johnson said: ‘I’m pretty confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas – that’ll be all on that one for now.
Although the Prime Minister acknowledged that there was “a lot that we don’t know at this early stage” regarding the Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa on Wednesday, he said been cautious about its nature.
“It appears to be spreading very quickly and can spread among people who have been doubly vaccinated,” Johnson said.
“But it diverts quite a bit from other variations of the past, which can mean people may not be as protected. “