South Africa's Omicron outbreak SLOWING with no deaths, low numbers in hospital and only 15% in intensive care

SOUTH Africa's Omicron outbreak is believed to be slowing, with no known deaths, few hospital admissions and just 15 per cent of those on a ward needing intensive care.

Leading experts have praised the country's leaders for not locking down as infections appear to wane.


Nationally 17,154 cases were reported in the past 24 hours – 4.8 percent up on last week and around 1,000 more than the previous Saturday.

However, at the beginning of this week, 22,391 cases were detected on Thursday – almost double the total recorded seven days before.

It's believed Omicron may be milder than Delta, with proportionally fewer hospitalisations and no deaths.

However, that may yet be because South Africa has a younger population on average – 27 compared with the UK's 41.

According to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, only about 30 per cent of those hospitalised with Covid in recent weeks have been seriously ill.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

That's less than half the rate seen during the first weeks of previous waves.

Average hospital stays are 2.8 days for Omicron, compared to eight days for other mutations.

Brits are now known to have been hospitalised with the variant, just over a fortnight after the virus was first detected here. The severity of their illness is not yet known.

Barry Schoub, the South Africa Government adviser on Covid, told Trevor Phillips on Sky this morning there's both bad and good news on the variant.

"We've had very rapid rise in infections," he said.

"The epidemic curve is almost vertical – it's that steep as it's going up.

'IT'S BEEN MILD'

"The doubling time is about one to one-and-a-half days – it's rapidly increasing.

"On the other hand, hospital rates have not been that high and within hospitalised individuals, only about 15 per cent are either in ICU or high care.

"The clinical expression has been mild but that could really be due to the fact that immunity is high.

"That's the positive side.

"One other negative that does appear to be quite apparent is that there's a lot of vaccine escape.

"A lot of fully-vaccinated people are still getting infected, but of that group, the great majority are mild."

Read our Omicron live blog for the latest updates

Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said on Twitter that there were signs hospitalisations are remaining low compared to the number of cases.

"Three weeks into resurgence, many adults and children testing SARS-CoV-2 [positive] in hospital, but COVID hospitalisation remains low relative to community case rate," he wrote on Friday.  

He also said the death rate is comparatively low, and praised the government for not locking down.

"Death rate very low compared to period of same case rate in previous waves. Trend over next week will be informative, but optimistic unlikely to surge," he wrote.

"Government response correctly remains measured by not increasing restrictions and not panicking with increase in cases."

'NO PANIC'

Some mathematicians believe infections in province Gauteng, where the mutation was first discovered, have now peaked.

However, in this country, experts say we're facing a wave of new cases.

Officials are urging all eligible Brits to get their booster jab as soon as possible after cheering data shows boosters offer up to 75 per cent protection from mild infection.

The Sun has relaunching our hugely successful Jabs Army campaign to speed up the roll-out.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said this morning that he fears an explosion of Omicron cases in the UK, with one million infections likely by the end of this month.

"We now a have variant so infectious, it will dominate and exponentially grow," he said.

It's a big wave and it's coming straight at us

"You get to 1million infections by, say, the end of December.

"One per cent [of those infected who suffer severe illness] is 10,000 people suffering severe illness in hospital. Three days later its 2m, three days later its 4m, three days beyond that it's 8m.

"Even if it's milder by 50 per cent than Delta, the numbers are huge."

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "It's a big wave and it's coming straight at us.

"If we see even half the severity we saw with Delta, then we're facing a very large number of hospitalisations and deaths."

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In the UK, there are currently no plans to go beyond plan B's face masks, vaccine passports and working from home orders.

However, scientists fear tougher restrictions may be needed to prevent Omicron causing anywhere between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths in England and alone over the next five months.

An optimistic scenario suggests there'll be 24,700 deaths by April 30 – while the most pessimistic models show 74,800 deaths.

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