As South Africa struggles with a new surge of COVID-19 infections due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, a new study suggests omicron could be less severe than other forms of the virus.
The New York Times reports doctors at the Steve Biko Academic and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria observed 42 patients who had been admitted last week with COVID-19.They found that 29 patients were breathing ordinary air, while four of 13 patients who were using supplemental oxygen were doing so for reasons unrelated to the virus.
Dr. Fareed Abdullah, the director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis Research at the South African Medical Research Council, told the Times that the 166 coronavirus patients who were admitted to the hospital between November 14 and November 29 had an average hospital stay of 2.8 days, with fewer than 7 percent dying.
In comparison, COVID-19 patients at the hospital over the previous 18 months stayed an average of 8.5 days, with 17 percent dying.
The report also says 80 percent of the 166 patients were under 50 years old, a change from earlier waves of COVID-19 patients, who were older. It says that suggests a high vaccination rate in South Africans over age 50.
Dr. Abdullah cautioned that the study has not been peer-reviewed, and it is not known how many patients were diagnosed with the omicron variant.
South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases says new coronavirus infections have reached more than 16,000, up dramatically from 2,300 cases reported last Monday.
The NICD says the rapid increase in cases is “unprecedented” in the trajectory of the pandemic, now in its fourth phase in South Africa.
Ian Sanne, an infectious disease specialist who serves on South Africa’s COVID-19 presidential advisory committee, is advising hospitals to prepare for “significant surges” of patients in coming weeks and months, and to make sure they have plenty of oxygen.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated France and other nations as “very high” risk for travelers to contract COVID-19.The other nations on the CDC’s “Level 4” list are Andorra, Cyprus, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Portugal and Tanzania. The nations join 78 other destinations the CDC is urging Americans to either avoid or ensure they are fully vaccinated before traveling.