Omicron Reaches Record Covid Infection Rate in South African Province

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The rate of Covid infections in South Africa’s Gauteng province exceeds anything seen in previous waves, and officials say Omicron is now the dominant variant.

Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association, said Omicron’s ability to spread – her R number – would be over 6. The R number for Delta, the dominant variant in the world, is estimated to be more than 5.

Speaking to the BBC’s PM program, Coetzee said: “We currently know that the virus is transmissible. According to scientists, the R-value is 6.3, I think.

In Gauteng, a populated province that includes Johannesburg and is the center of the outbreak, public health officials say case positivity rates have jumped from 2% in mid-November to 24% this week.

However, most of the cases seen in the province so far, including by Coetzee, have been described as mild, with the majority of infections concentrated in younger patients who represent a significantly larger proportion of the country’s unvaccinated.

Professor Bruce Mellado, who advises the provincial government, told the Daily Maverick that health officials have seen such a rapid increase in cases in Gauteng in recent weeks that they have had to recalibrate their projection models. The increase has been at a rate never seen before, he said, not even in the third wave, which Mellado described as a “very serious situation”.

Other officials in the province have described a 20% increase in the seven-day moving average of daily Covid cases and an increase in hospital admissions, pulled by Omicron.

First reported by South African scientists to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24, Omicron sparked a global panic as countries rush to close their borders, reimpose travel restrictions and step up vaccination programs.

Despite an increase in virus-related hospitalizations in South Africa, deaths appear to be increasing at a slower rate than the country’s third wave of Covid. This was highlighted by a WHO statement on Friday saying it had yet to see any reports of Omicron-related deaths.

Amid mounting evidence that current vaccines are likely to offer a high level of protection against serious disease of the variant, the CEO of German company BioNTech said she should be able to adapt her vaccine relatively quickly. in response to Omicron.

Uğur Şahin told Reuters Next on Friday that vaccines should continue to provide protection against serious disease despite mutations. “This variant might be able to infect people who have been vaccinated. We expect that infected people who have been vaccinated will still be protected against serious illness, ”Ahin said.

He said mutations in the virus meant it was more likely that annual vaccinations would become the norm, as is the case with seasonal flu, and that new vaccines would be needed, although it is not yet clear when.

The WHO has called on Covid vaccine makers to prepare for the likelihood of needing to adjust their products to protect against Omicron.

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