Omicron record high cases

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Omicron ‘will fuel record-high cases’ in SA – but it’s not all doom and gloom…

With Omicron poised to sweep across South Africa, it’s likely that new infections will reach record highs. However, there is some good news.

Omicron record high cases

Image: stock image via Unsplash

One of South Africa’s leading virologists has stated that we are now on course to see ‘record-high numbers’ in our daily new COVID-19 infections, thanks to the emergence of the Omicron variant. However, the Wits Professor also made a very reassuring prediction about the way this latest wave will pan out.

Omicron latest: South Africa ‘likely to break daily case record’

It’s generally accepted from the early research that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta. That’s some effort, considering the danger posed to us by the previous variant. The various mutations in B.1.1.529 make it a thoroughly troublesome strain to deal with… but some positive preliminary signs have also emerged.

Officials from WHO, various national governments, and domestic experts have all noted that a large majority of patients who come down with an Omicron infection experience ‘mild symptoms only’. There’s also evidence to support claims that our existing vaccines will provide strong protection against severe COVID illnesses, too.

Is Omicron deadlier than Delta? No evidence to suggest so…

Shabir Madhi, speaking on Cape Talk today, was open and honest about the threat posed by Omicron. While acknowledging its transmissibility advantage is an issue, Madhi has also urged people to stop the alarmism over this new variant – and if Gauteng is anything to go by, there is room for optimism going forward.

When infections rise from a low base, the numbers look scary: We’re sure you’ve seen it reported that infections have ‘doubled in one day’, and hospitalisations are up ‘over 100%’ in some regions. Just 10 days ago, SA was reporting only a few hundred new cases each day – but when cases increase, so do other metrics.

‘Gauteng immunity’ likely to ease impact of new variant

But Shabir Madhi isn’t panicking. He notes that a combination of fully vaccinated individuals, the previously infected, and people in the middle of that Venn Diagram will now ‘unhinge’ the link between cases, severe illness, and death:

  • Madhi estimates that 75% of all Gauteng residents ‘have been infected with COVID’ at some point.
  • Coupled with the vaccine drive, this means immunity from severe disease is already high here.
  • Omicron, however, is likely to be more transmissible than Delta – meaning SA may encounter ‘record-high’ infection levels.
  • That’s not the be-all and end-all – Madhi predicts that death and hospitalisation rates will be LOWER going forward.
  • Therefore, most people in Gauteng have enough antibodies to overcome an Omicron infection easily.
  • There will still be a *rise* in severe cases, but Madhi believes it won’t be proportionate to soaring new infections.

Record-high cases on their way – but it’s not all bad news

Given the high number of unvaccinated people in South Africa – 63% of the adult population, to be precise – the spread of Omicron will almost certainly be felt harder here than in countries with a high vaccine uptake.

Madhi also fully expects to see South Africa breach the 25 000 daily cases mark – which would be a record-high for Mzansi, at any point during the pandemic. However, when vaccines and antibodies are highly prevalent in a population, it takes the pressure off both our hospitals and our mortuaries.

“The South African experience will be one in which we see more cases than we have ever identified before. I wouldn’t be surprised if we go above 25 – 30,000 cases per day once the virus has spread throughout the country.”

But we will probably see an unhinging of the case rate and the death rate. So it is more likely that we will see a lower percentage of these cases ending up in hospital or dying.

Shabir Madhi