Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla on Friday said the Omicron variant was spreading rapidly across South Africa – and the world – but there is a glimmer of light at the end of the Covid-19-tunnel.
As of Thursday, 17 December, 24,785 new cases have been identified in South Africa, bringing the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 3,255,816.
Omicron health briefing
Despite the sharp increase in new cases, fewer people require hospitalisation or oxygen.
Head of the division of public health surveillance and response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Michelle Groome, said:
“The hospitalisations are not increasing at such a dramatic rate. We are starting to see some increases, but relatively small increases in deaths.”
Groome said more data was still needed on disease severity in adults and children, transmissibility and degree of immune escape, and vaccine effectiveness against severe disease.
Covid-19 vaccines curb the spread
The decreased severity of hospitalisations, Phaahla explained, did not indicate the Omicron variant was less virulent, it merely suggests vaccines prevent serious illness.
Approximately 31% of the population is fully vaccinated, while 66% over the age of 60 are vaccinated.
Fewer people infected with the Omicron variant also required oxygen, especially when compared to the data collected during the previous waves.
That said, regardless of the Omicron variant, mask-wearing, social distancing, limiting large distancing protocols should still be followed.
Positivity rate up despite Omicron
Despite all nine of South Africa’s provinces being in the fourth wave, Dr Wassila Jassat from the NICD said hospital-stay durations were shorter.
Gauteng is still considered as the epicentre, reporting the highest number of new infections, with figures now exceeding the first, second and third waves.
Gauteng is also the only province with a positivity rate below 30%. According to Phaahla, South Africa’s rate is now 31%, thanks to the other provinces “recording a positivity rate of 30% and above”.
At the time of publishing, the Omicron variant has been detected in 76 countries the globe, with the UK recording the first Omicron-related death on 13 December.