The curve of covid-19 cases in South Africa, where the omicron variant was identified for the first time in mid-November and where it is the majority, shows a clear downward trend in recent days after reaching a maximum number of daily infections on 17 November. December, when the figure of 23,437 new cases was reached. Since then, the number of infections has been declining to just over 15,000 last Sunday. The key is in the province of Gauteng, where the variant and epicenter of the disease arose. “Everything indicates that we have passed the peak of infections in Gauteng,” Michelle Groome, head of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases of South Africa, assured the media last week.
For her part, Marta Nunes, principal investigator of the department of analysis of vaccines and infectious diseases of the University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, shared the optimism of Dr. Groome and assured the Associated Press: with the sustained drop in new cases seen here in Gauteng province, which for weeks has been the center of this wave, it indicates that we have passed the peak. ” In this sense, he stated that “it was a short wave (…) and the good news is that it was not very serious in terms of hospitalizations and deaths,” he said. “It is not unexpected in epidemiology that a very steep increase, like the one we saw in November, is followed by a steep decline,” he concluded.
The curve of this wave of covid in South Africa, where the omicron variant is dominant, resembles a very steep mountain, much more than in previous waves, but its descent is also being very abrupt. That South Africa was the first country where the new lineage was detected and that a month and a half later the cases show a downward trend is being welcomed with cautious optimism by the scientific community. This decrease is even more drastic in the province of Gauteng, the most populous in South Africa, since there are its most inhabited city, Johannesburg, and its capital, Pretoria, where 90% of the cases detected belong to the omicron.
Infections in that province fell from 16,000 on December 12 to just over 3,000 a day last week. Although these figures are very positive regarding the evolution of the pandemic, experts remain cautious because they are aware that the virus continues to circulate. Ridhwaan Suliman, a researcher at the South African Scientific and Industrial Research Council, assured via Twitter that cases had decreased in the last week in the country by 19%, although the positivity (percentage of positives in the tests carried out) was still high, around 29%. Also, although hospitalizations increased compared to the previous week, they tend to slow down.
Less severe, cautious
Data from South Africa also suggest that omicron is between 70% and 80% less severe than the delta variant, said John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control (CDC), during a press conference. . But in this case prudence is also called for. “These data should not be extrapolated to all countries, we have to interpret them with caution,” he said, revealing that factors such as the average age of a young population such as South Africa could play a relevant role in them.
“In terms of the massive daily doubling that we were seeing just over a week ago with huge numbers, that seems to have been resolved,” Professor Veronica Uekermann, head of the covid-19 response team at the academic hospital, reiterated to the Associated Press. Steve Biko, in Pretoria, who stressed that most hospitalized patients are not vaccinated. In South Africa, only 26.25% of the population have received the full immunization schedule, according to data from Our World in Data, a repository at the University of Oxford. “None of my patients in the ICU are vaccinated,” Uekermann said, “so our vaccinated people are doing better on this wave, hands down. We have some patients who are very sick with severe covid, and these are unvaccinated patients. “
The omicron variant was detected in mid-November in South Africa, specifically in the Gauteng province, where it quickly became the dominant lineage, replacing the delta. The high number of mutations it presented made the scientific community think that it could be much more contagious, something that was confirmed over the weeks, and also that it could perhaps be more lethal due to its ability to circumvent immunization. However, preliminary studies carried out in South African hospitals in mid-December revealed that their symptoms were milder than delta, at least among those already vaccinated.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.