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Omicron pretty mild so far: SA health experts

SA Medical Association chair says no one with the new variant has yet been admitted to hospital.
Image: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg
Symptoms linked to the omicron coronavirus variant have been mild so far, according to a Covid-19 adviser to the South Africa government and the Pretoria doctor who first sounded the alarm about the new strain.

While South Africa, which first identified the new variant, currently has 3,220 people with the coronavirus infection overall, there’s been no real uptick in hospitalisations, Barry Schoub, chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, told Sky News on Sunday.

“The cases that have occurred so far have all been mild cases, mild-to-moderate cases, and that’s a good sign,” said Schoub, adding that it was still early days and nothing was certain yet.

South Africa has been hit with a number of travel bans from the U.K. and other nations, after its scientists found the mutated variant last week. Since then, a growing number of European countries, along with Australia, have also identified people infected with the variant.

The large number of mutations found in the omicron variant appears to destabilize the virus, which might make it less “fit” than the dominant delta strain, said Schoub.

“In a way, hopefully it won’t displace delta because delta we know responds very well to the vaccine,” he said.

Only about a third of South African adults are vaccinated.

Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, called symptoms associated with the variant at this point “different and so mild” compared with others she’d treated for the virus in recent months.

Coetzee, who first spotted what turned out to be the new variant, told the U.K. Telegraph that a number of healthy young men turned up at her clinic “feeling so tired.” About half were unvaccinated.

“What we are seeing clinically in South Africa and remember, I’m at the epicenter, that’s where I’m practicing, is extremely mild,” she said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”

“We haven’t admitted anyone” to the hospital with the new variant,” she said. “I spoke to other colleagues of mine, the same picture.”

Asked if authorities around the world were panicking unnecessarily, Coetzee said “yes, at this stage I would say definitely. Two weeks from now on maybe we will say something different.”

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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