Saturday, October 1 2022

Marianne Guenot

A medical professional performs a COVID-19 test on a traveler at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 28, 2021, Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images

  • Hospitalization rates linked to the Omicron surge in South Africa are around 1.7%, its health minister said.

  • That’s less than a tenth of the 19% rate seen at a comparable point when Delta was booming.

  • This is likely due to a high level of immunity in the population, the health minister said.

South Africa is experiencing very low hospitalization rates compared to the Delta wave, its health minister said on Friday.

It happened as scientists and governments scrambled to understand the fast-spreading Omicron variant and how hard it is likely to strike.

Only 1.7% of identified cases of COVID-19 have led to hospitalization in two weeks since South Africa declared a fourth wave, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said during a press conference.

This compared to a rate of 19% at a comparable point when the Delta variant first appeared, he said.

“In terms of absolute numbers, we are still at a low level with just over 7,600 patients admitted,” Phaahla said.

A graph shows weekly new hospital admissions for COVID-19 in South Africa.

New weekly hospital admissions for COVID-19 as of December 16. Our world in data

This dynamic may not persist in other countries, as South Africa has a much younger population than places like the United States and Europe, Bloomberg noted.

There is also a high level of immunity in this population against vaccination and previous exposure to COVID-19.

A recent survey revealed that 70% to 80% of the population had antibodies against the coronavirus, by Bloomberg.

Deaths also remain low and hospitalizations appear milder

Even among hospitalized patients, cases appear to be milder than in previous waves, said Waasila Jassat, a researcher at South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases, according to Bloomberg.

“For the first time, there are more non-serious patients than serious patients in the hospital,” Jassat said.

“We have seen a decrease in the proportion of people who need to be on oxygen. They are at very low levels,” Jassat said.

Deaths follow suit and remain low, dropping from an average of 0.4 new daily COVID-19 deaths per million on December 3 to 0.48 on December 16, two weeks later.

This compares to an increase from 1.4 on June 10, at the start of the Delta wave, to 2.58 two weeks later.

A graph shows the daily new deaths from COVID-19 in South Africa.

Seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 deaths in South Africa as of December 16. Our world in data

The figures are striking given the large number of infections plaguing South Africa.

Cases per million people hit a record high of 386 in the seven days to Friday, more than tripling in the space of a week, by Our World in Data.

A graph shows the average of new daily COVID-19 cases in South Africa per million.

Seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases per million in South Africa as of December 16, 2021. Our World In Data

Phaahla warned that low hospitalization rates do not necessarily mean the virus itself is less dangerous, News 24 from South Africa reported.

Rather, it could reflect the fact that many people already have some level of immunity after nearly two years of the pandemic.

Phaahla encouraged people to socialize during the winter period but to follow COVID-19 protocols to limit pressure on the healthcare system.

“Our healthcare workers are physically and emotionally drained, so we are really begging all [you] to think of them as we celebrate this festive season,” he said.


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