The South African health minister delivered some encouraging news Friday about the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, citing a much lower rate of hospitalizations amid a milder form of the illness.
Only 1.7 percent of COVID-19 patients were admitted in the second week of infections during the fourth wave of the pandemic, compared to 19 percent in the same week of the third Delta-driven wave, Joe Phaahla told reporters, Bloomberg News reported.
The government believes that vaccines and high levels of prior infections were helping to keep the disease milder in a wave driven by the variant.
“We believe that it might not necessarily just be that Omicron is less virulent, but … coverage of vaccination [and] … natural immunity of people who have already had contact with the virus is also adding to the protection,” Phaahla said, according to Reuters.
“That’s why we are seeing mild illness,” he added.
Wassila Jassat, an official with the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said the number of people requiring oxygen was “lower than what it was in comparison to any of the previous wave periods.”
She added: “Patients do seem to stay for a shorter duration.”
In South Africa, 44 percent the adult population has received at least one dose of the jab, more than many African countries but well short of the government’s year-end target.
But among residents over age 50, vaccination coverage levels are over 60 percent, Reuters reported.
South Africa, where Omicron first emerged, is being monitored for signs of what may happen with the highly transmissible variant across the rest of the globe.
About 7,600 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in South Africa, about 40 percent of the peak during the second and third waves, the news outlet reported.
Meanwhile, excess deaths — a measure of fatalities against a historical average — are just below 2,000 a week, an eighth of their previous peak.
“We are really seeing very small increases in the number of deaths,” said Michelle Groome, another official with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.