Nompilo Kunene
Senior online journalist
4 minute read
8 Dec 2021

Netcare says so far it has seen far less severe Covid-19 symptoms with Omicron variant

Nompilo Kunene

After more than three weeks following the discovery of the new Omicron variant in South Africa, data across the Netcare private hospitals indicates that patients are showing milder symptoms.

After more than three weeks following the discovery of the new Omicron variant in South Africa, data across the Netcare private hospitals indicates that patients are showing milder symptoms.

Dr Richard Friedland, CEO of Netcare, on Wednesday said many of the patients across their Gauteng hospitals, have far milder symptoms than anything they have experienced during the first three waves.

“Approximately 90% of Covid-19 patients currently in our hospitals require no form of oxygen therapy and are considered incidental cases. While we fully recognise that it is still early days, if this trend continues, it would appear that with a few exceptions of those requiring tertiary care, the fourth wave can be adequately treated at a primary care level,” said Friedland.

During the first three waves, Friedland said the rate of hospital admissions rose in tandem with the rate of community transmission.

Dr Friedland said that in the first three waves of the pandemic, Netcare treated 126 000 Covid-19 patients across its 49 acute hospitals, of which 55 000 (44%) patients required admission and 26% of these patients were treated in high care and intensive care (ICU).

Significantly, he said all Covid-19 patients admitted were sick and required some form of oxygen therapy. The high admission rate, as well as the high percentage of patients requiring ICU is indicative of the severity of cases during the first three waves, he said.

“As of today [Wednesday] we have 337 Covid-19 positive patients admitted, 72% of these patients are in the Gauteng area and 18% in KwaZulu-Natal. Of these patients approximately 10%, 33 patients, are on some form of oxygenation versus 100% in the first three waves. Eight of these patients, 2%, are being ventilated and of these, two are primary trauma cases that are also Covid-19 positive,” he said.

Friedland said Netcare’s policy is to test all patients for Covid-19 before or on admission. Patients admitted for other primary diagnoses or surgical procedures who test positive for Covid-19 but do not require any form of oxygenation are considered to be incidental Covid-19 cases. Currently 90% of Covid-19 cases now in Netcare hospitals are considered incidental.

“During the first three waves, when the overall community positivity rate breeched 26% across South Africa, we were inundated with Covid-19 admissions to hospital. Within Netcare we had over 2 000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals during the first wave, over 2 250 patients in hospital during the second wave and over 3 000 patients in hospital during the third wave. At present the 337 patients represent a fraction compared to previous waves,” said Friedland.

“The very rapid rise in community transmission as compared to previous waves may partially explain this relatively low hospital admission rate. However, there does appear to be a decoupling in terms of the rate of hospital admissions at this early stage in the evolution of the fourth wave,” he said.

Dr Friedland added that of a total of 800 Covid-19 positive patients that were admitted since November 15, 75% of these were unvaccinated.

He said Netcare has seen seven deaths over this period in this group of patients, of which four may be ascribed to Covid-19. The ages of these four patients ranged from 58 to 91 years of age and all had significant co-morbidities. Of these patients, three were not vaccinated.

“In terms of age distribution, Covid-19 patients admitted since the 15 November are on average younger than those seen during the first three waves with over 71% being below 50 years of age, with an average age of 38.5 years. This compares to only 40% below 50 years of age in the first three waves, with an average age of 54 years,” said Friedland.

Since 15 November 2021, of the 32 000 patients seen by general practitioners across 21 Netcare Medicross Medical and Dental Family Centres in Gauteng, 1 100 tested positive for Covid-19 and were symptomatic. In addition, over 22 000 patients have been seen through Netcare’s Emergency Departments in Gauteng, of which 816 were COVID-19 positive.

Friedland said virtually all patients have presented with mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, including a blocked or runny nose, headache and a scratchy or sore throat and have been treated symptomatically.

“Early trends of this fourth wave, since 15 November 2021, when admissions began to rise, indicate a far less severe form of Covid-19 and a probable decoupling of the rate of community transmission and the rate of hospital admissions,” said Dr Friedland.

“Most of the cases in hospital that are Covid-19 positive do not require any form of oxygen therapy and are considered incidental findings. In a primary care setting, the same mild to moderate clinical picture is being experienced. It is our considered view at this early stage that, should this trend continue, COVID-19 may be effectively managed at a primary care level, with the exception of certain cases requiring admission to tertiary facilities,” he said..

Dr Friedland reiterated that the best way to support South Africa remains to take COVID-19 extremely seriously and to be as cautious as ever.