As Omicron spreads across South Africa, scientists and health officials are looking at the country’s rapidly evolving COVID situation to try and better understand the new variant as it spreads across the globe. Below is a snapshot of South Africa’s COVID situation as Omicron takes hold.
On Thursday, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 11,535 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the positivity rate to 22.4 percent.
The daily case count represents a 1,741 percent increase rise in cases of over the past 14 days, according to data collected by The New York Times. South Africa is now averaging 5,093 daily new COVID cases compared to early November, when the country was seeing case counts below 300 on some days, according to the NICD.
In addition to rising cases, a study by Juliet Pulliam of the South African Center for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and Harry Moultrie of the National Center for Communicable Diseases found that the risk of reinfection from the Omicron coronavirus variant is three times higher than for any previous variant.
While data collected on the efficacy of the protection provided by existing COVID vaccines against Omicron is still being studied, some experts including Beth Israel’s Dr. Dan Barouch believe the antibodies and immune cells stimulated by vaccines for the coronavirus will still provide some protection.
But many South Africans have little to no protection from vaccines, with only 25 percent of South Africans fully vaccinated, as reported by The New York Times. In comparison, in the US 60 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
The higher vaccination rate in the US may mean that fewer Americans will be at risk for contracting severe COVID, though more data is needed to understand the new variant.
Emergence of the variant:
The Omicron variant, also known as B.1.1.529, was first reported by South African scientists and health officials on Nov. 24. The variant’s unusual number of mutations has raised concerns worldwide and countries are racing to understand what they could mean.
The prevalence of Omicron in South Africa has multiplied rapidly, taking over the Delta variant which dominated in September and October.
According to the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA), Omicron made up 74 percent of COVID cases in the country in November, with Delta comprising 22 percent of cases. For comparison, in October, Delta made up 92 percent of COVID cases sequenced.
The results from genetic sequences suggest that Omicron began spreading in South Africa beginning in November.
Maria Elena Little Endara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.