Initial Hospital Data in Omicron Epicenter Shows Milder Disease


Initial data from a major hospital complex in South Africa’s omicron epicenter show that while Covid-19 case numbers have surged, patients need less medical intervention.

The Steve Biko and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria had 166 new admissions between Nov. 14 and Nov. 29, with 42 patients currently in the Covid wards, according to a report showing the early experience of patients at the hospital group. Most originally sought treatment for ailments unrelated to the coronavirus and were discovered to have it in testing required for admission.

This only represents the first two weeks of the omicron wave in Tshwane and the “clinical profile of admitted patients could change significantly over the next two weeks,” said the paper’s author Fareed Abdullah, a director of the South African Medical Research Council and an infectious disease doctor at the Steve Biko hospital. The report has not been peer reviewed.

Main observations include:

  • Most patients in the Covid wards have not been oxygen dependent — a departure from previous waves.
  • Of 38 adults in the Covid wards on Dec. 2, six were vaccinated, 24 were unvaccinated and eight had unknown vaccination status.
  • Only a single patient on oxygen was fully vaccinated, but the intervention was required to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Two were admitted to intensive care within the past two weeks, but neither with a primary diagnosis of Covid pneumonia.
  • No fewer than 80% of admissions were younger than 59. Some 19% were children up to 9, and 28% were patients age 30 to 39.
  • Pediatric Covid wards reported no deaths over the last two weeks. Children accounted for 17% of the deaths over the previous 18 months
  • Ten of the patients died, or 6.6%, though it hasn’t been determined that omicron was the cause
  • The number of deaths may increase. The trend will become clearer over the next two weeks — enough time to see if the cases worsen.
  • Average length of stay in Covid wards was 2.8 days versus 8.5 days for the past 18 months.