According to medical specialists, South Africa’s recent reduction in new COVID-19 cases might indicate that the country’s significant omicron-driven increase has peaked.
Virus case numbers are notoriously incorrect due to inconsistencies in testing, reporting delays, and other factors. They do, however, provide a tantalizing clue — albeit one that is far from convincing — that omicron infections may subside fast following a furious increase.
South Africa has been at the vanguard of the omicron wave, and the rest of the globe is waiting to see how it plays out there to see what could be in store.
On Thursday, the number of new cases nationally peaked at about 27,000, but by Tuesday, it had declined to around 15,424. The decline began early and has continued in Gauteng province, South Africa’s most populous with 16 million inhabitants, including the main metropolis, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.
“The steady reduction in new cases witnessed here in Gauteng province, which has been the heart of this wave for weeks, shows that we have passed the top,” Marta Nunes, senior researcher at the University of Witwatersrand’s Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics department, told reporters.
“It was a brief wave,” she added, “and the good news is that it was not very severe in terms of hospitalizations and deaths.” “A really steep spike, like what we witnessed in November, is followed by a steep decline,” according to the researchers.
In mid-November, the province of Gauteng witnessed a substantial increase in its population. The new, severely altered omicron variety, which was disclosed to the public on Nov. 25, was promptly found by scientists undertaking genetic sequencing.
Omicron, which is far more transmissible, swiftly established supremacy in South Africa. According to testing, omicron has been found in 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in Gauteng province since mid-November.
And the rest of the globe appears to be catching up, with omicron already outnumbering the delta version as the most common coronavirus strain in several nations. According to health experts, omicron was responsible for 73 percent of new infections in the United States last week, and the variation is responsible for 90% or more of new infections in the New York region, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom have increased by 60% in a week, as omicron has surpassed delta as the most common form. According to the World Health Organization, the variation has been found in at least 89 countries throughout the world.
Even though omicron appeared to produce milder sickness, with much fewer hospitalizations, people requiring oxygen, and fatalities, doctors in South Africa were concerned that the sheer amount of new infections would overwhelm the country’s facilities.
However, the number of cases in Gauteng began to decline. Following a peak of 16,000 new infections on December 12, the province’s statistics have progressively declined, with just over 3,300 cases reported on Tuesday.
“It’s important.” The decline is “very considerable,” according to Dr. Fareed Abdullah.
“The high surge in new cases has been followed by a rapid reduction, and it looks we’re seeing the beginning of the wave’s drop,” said Abdullah, who works in the Steve Biko Academic Hospital’s COVID-19 ward.
A survey of health care professionals who tested positive for COVID-19 at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto showed a rapid spike and then a rapid fall in instances, suggesting that South Africa’s omicron surge may be subsiding.
“We were seeing more than 20 new cases per day two weeks ago, and now we’re seeing approximately five or six instances each day,” Nunes added.
However, she cautioned that it is still early and that various things must be constantly monitored.
South Africa’s positive rate has remained high, at 29%, up from 2% in early November, indicating that the virus is still circulating at high levels among the population, she added.
And the Christmas season has begun in the United States, when many companies cease for a month and people travel to see family, frequently in rural places. According to scientists, this might hasten the spread of omicron across South Africa and into neighboring nations.
Professor Veronica Uekermann, leader of the COVID-19 response team at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, stated, “In terms of the dramatic everyday doubling that we were witnessing little over a week ago with large numbers, that seems to have calmed.”
“However, it is far too soon to declare that we have passed the apex. There are too many external influences, such as mobility and general activity throughout the holiday season,” she added, noting that illnesses surged following the Christmas break last year.
It’s summer in South Africa, so many meetings are outside, which may explain why the omicron-driven wave here differs from the surges in Europe and North America, where people like to congregate indoors.
Another uncertainty is how much omicron has spread without causing sickness among South Africans.
Because South Africa appears to have had a fast, moderate wave of omicron, some health experts in New York have speculated that the variation may behave similarly in the United States. Nunes, on the other hand, advises against leaping to such conclusions.
“Every environment, every country is unique. There are differences in the populations. In various nations, the demographics of the population and immunity are varied,” she explained. With an average age of 27, South Africa’s population is younger than that of many Western countries.
The majority of COVID-19 patients now being treated in hospitals are unvaccinated, according to Uekermann. About 40% of adult South Africans have received two doses of the vaccine.
“All of my ICU patients are unvaccinated,” Uekermann explained. “Our vaccinated folks are definitely performing better in this wave.” We have several people who are really sick with severe COVID and who have not been immunized.”