Medics and scientists in South Africa have welcomed early hospital data suggesting that the Omicron coronavirus variant could result in less severe illness than previous waves but warned that higher transmission rates could still overwhelm hospitals.
Early data from the Steve Biko and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, which is at the centre of the outbreak, showed that on December 2 only nine of the 42 patients on the Covid-19 ward, all of whom were unvaccinated, were being treated for the virus and were in need of oxygen.
The remainder of the patients had tested positive but were asymptomatic and being treated for other conditions.
“My colleagues and I have all noticed this high number of patients on room air,” said Dr Fareed Abdullah, a director of the South African Medical Research Council and an infectious disease doctor at the Steve Biko hospital.
“You walked into a Covid ward any time in the past 18 months . . . you could hear the oxygen whooshing out of the wall sockets, you could hear the ventilators beeping . . . but now the vast majority of patients are like any other ward.”
Although the total number of Covid-positive patients in Gauteng’s hospitals is approaching the level it reached at the same stage of the Delta wave, researchers said a large proportion received treatment for other conditions. And the number of Covid patients in intensive care is one quarter of what it was three weeks into the Delta outbreak.