South Africa's Covid cases DOUBLE in a day as test positivity climbs to 16.5%


South Africa’s Covid cases double in a day, but hospital admissions remain flat amid fears of an Omicron-driven wave of infections.

Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 8,561 new Covid cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, a jump of 95.8 per cent in a single day and 571.5 per cent in a week.

Cases have been soaring in the country since the super mutant Omicron variant emerged, which experts say appears to be more infectious than Delta and has mutations that may allow it to dodge vaccine protection.

South African scientists said the strain was ‘rapidly becoming dominant’ in a briefing on the new figures, adding: ‘The mutation profile and epidemiological picture suggests Omicron is able to get around some of our immune protection (to cause infection) but the protection against severe disease and death from vaccines should be less affected.’

Some 51,977 people in the country took a Covid test and 16.5 per cent of them tested positive for the virus. For comparison, 10.2 per cent of tests taken yesterday were positive and last Wednesday the figure stood at just 3.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, Covid hospital admissions and deaths increased by around a quarter in a week. 

But despite fears about Omicron, South Africa is still recording far fewer overall Covid cases compared to its population size than both the UK and US. 

Figures from the Oxford University research platform Our World in Data show South Africa has 46 cases per million people compared to 628 in the UK and 246 in the US. Cases are rising sharply in South Africa but are starting at a low base.

And just a quarter of South Africans have had two Covid vaccine doses, which makes interpreting the data challenging. In the city of Tshwane in northern Gauteng, 87 per cent of hospital admissions this week were among the unvaccinated.

For comparison, 70 per cent of people in the UK are double-jabbed and the figure is as high as 80 per cent in some European nations.

The figures come after health chiefs today said the variant — scientifically known as B.1.1.529 — may cause less severe illness than previous strains.

A World Health Organization official said there is no evidence Omicron has any impact on vaccine effectiveness against serious illness and those infected are reporting mild symptoms. 

And health chiefs in Botswana — where Omicron is believed to have emerged — revealed that 16 out of 19 of its confirmed cases were asymptomatic and symptoms are ‘very, very mild’ among those who have them. 

Meanwhile, Israeli officials claimed that a booster dose of Pfizer’s vaccine provides up to 90 per cent protection against severe illness from Omicron.

But experts warn it will be at least two weeks until they have a better understanding of what impact the variant could have. 

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist at the WHO, said ‘surveillance bias’ could be underestimating the severity of Omicron, because young people have been the main spreaders of the strain. 

And SAGE, No10’s scientific advisors, warned Britain should brace for a ‘potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalisations’ this winter if the worst estimates about Omicron turn out to be true. 

Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 8,561 people in South Africa tested positive in the last 24 hours — increasing six-fold in a week and nearly doubling on yesterday's number — equating to a positivity rate of 16.5 per cent. South Africa has recorded 2.9million cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Covid deaths have increased from 22 last Wednesday to 28 today, marking a 27 per cent rise. The vast majority of cases are concentrated in Gauteng, the epicentre of the outbreak, in the north east

Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 8,561 people in South Africa tested positive in the last 24 hours — increasing six-fold in a week and nearly doubling on yesterday’s number — equating to a positivity rate of 16.5 per cent. South Africa has recorded 2.9million cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Covid deaths have increased from 22 last Wednesday to 28 today, marking a 27 per cent rise. The vast majority of cases are concentrated in Gauteng, the epicentre of the outbreak, in the north east

The graph shows the number of Covid-infected people hospitalised in South Africa each week. Last week, 1,027 people were admitted to public and private hospitals, equating to an average of 146 people per day. Some 552 people have been hospitalised with the virus in the first three days of this week, equating to 184 admissions per day, marking an increase of 26 per cent on last week

The graph shows the number of Covid-infected people hospitalised in South Africa each week. Last week, 1,027 people were admitted to public and private hospitals, equating to an average of 146 people per day. Some 552 people have been hospitalised with the virus in the first three days of this week, equating to 184 admissions per day, marking an increase of 26 per cent on last week

This map shows the pace of surging infections in the country. In Gauteng, the epicentre, they are rising week-on-week by more than 300 per cent alongside its neighbours the North West and Limpopo. Scientists say the variant is likely already in every province of the country, although it is unclear at present how many cases are linked to the strain

This map shows the pace of surging infections in the country. In Gauteng, the epicentre, they are rising week-on-week by more than 300 per cent alongside its neighbours the North West and Limpopo. Scientists say the variant is likely already in every province of the country, although it is unclear at present how many cases are linked to the strain

Last Wednesday, 1,275 people tested positive in South Africa — marking a 3.6 per cent positivity rate.

And yesterday, 4,373 new infections were confirmed, with 10.2 per cent of those swabbed testing positive.

The upward trend continued today, with 8,561 testing positive — increasing six-fold in a week and nearly doubling on yesterday’s number — equating to a positivity rate of 16.5 per cent.

South Africa has recorded 2.9million cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

What’s all the fuss about? Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ or show no symptoms at all, World Health Organization says

Most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and there is no evidence the new variant has any impact on vaccine effectiveness against serious illness, a World Health Organization official claimed today.

A spokesperson for the global health agency said early data suggests the mutant strain is better at infecting people than Delta, even the fully vaccinated.

But there is no signal that existing vaccines will be any less effective at preventing hospitalisations and deaths, the official, speaking anonymously, told Reuters. 

It is unclear what evidence the WHO is referring to, but the comment marks the first official hint that the Omicron super-strain may not wreak as much global havoc as initially feared. 

But despite fears about Omicron, South Africa is still recording far fewer overall Covid cases per population size than both the UK and US. 

Figures from the Oxford University research platform Our World in Data shows South Africa has 46 cases per million people compared to 628 in the UK and 246 in the US. Cases are rising sharply in South Africa but are starting at a low base.

So far, only 172 Omicron cases have been confirmed in South Africa and doctors there maintain that patients with the new variant are presenting with milder symptoms than previous strains — even though daily cases have soared 400 per cent in a week to 4,373 yesterday.

Botswana — the country where Omicron is believed to have emerged — today revealed that 16 out of 19 of its confirmed cases were asymptomatic.  

Meanwhile, hospitalisations have risen by 26 per cent in the last seven days. An average of 146 people were admitted each day last week, while an average of 184 Covid-infected patients required hospital care over the first three days of this week. 

And Covid deaths have increased from 22 last Wednesday to 28 today, marking a 27 per cent rise.

Trends in hospitalisations and deaths lag two to three weeks behind the pattern in cases, due to the time it takes to become seriously unwell after catching the virus.

Scientists in South Africa have warned that the vast majority of people who end up being hospitalised with the Omicron variant are unvaccinated.

Some 23.8 per cent of South Africa’s entire population is double-jabbed, compared to 67.9 per cent of Britons and 58.1 per cent of Americans, according to Our World in Data.  

But South Africa is still recording far fewer overall Covid cases per population size than both the UK and US.  

And so far, only 172 Omicron cases have been confirmed in South Africa and doctors there maintain that patients with the new variant are presenting with milder symptoms than previous strains — even though daily cases have soared.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the WHO, speaking anonymously to Reuters, said early data suggests the mutant strain is better at infecting people than Delta, even the fully vaccinated. 

But there is no signal that existing vaccines will be any less effective at preventing hospitalisations and deaths, they said. 

It is unclear what evidence the WHO is referring to, but the comment marks the first official hint that the Omicron super-strain may not wreak as much global havoc as initially feared. 

It comes after Botswana’s health ministry revealed it had detected 19 Omicron cases in the country and 16 among the group had no symptoms of the virus.

Dr Pamela Smith-Lawrence, acting director of Health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said the majority of the 19 infected people have already tested negative. 

And the two people who reported feeling unwell had ‘very, very mild’ symptoms, she said.

It is ‘unfair’ to treat Botswana as ground zero of the new variant, Dr Smith-Lawrence added. 

Meanwhile, Israeli health minister Nitzan Horowitz yesterday said there was ‘room for optimism’ about the variant and existing vaccines will shield against severe illness from the super-strain, based on ‘initial indications’. 

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the first person to spot the new variant in a patient, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and much milder symptoms, including tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But none reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the first person to spot the new variant in a patient, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and much milder symptoms, including tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But none reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties 

Boosters ARE effective against Omicron: Israeli scientists claim Pfizer’s jab provides up to 90% protection

People who get a booster Pfizer Covid vaccine or who had their second jab within six months should still be highly protected against Omicron, Israeli health chiefs claim.

Without citing any data, Health minister Nitzan Horowitz yesterday said there was ‘room for optimism’ and that existing vaccines will shield against severe illness from the super-strain, based on ‘initial indications’.

Hours later, a report by an Israeli news channel claimed the Pfizer jab was 90 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron, only slightly less than Delta. 

The Channel 12 news broadcast also claimed the super variant is just 30 per cent more infectious than Delta — much lower than initially feared.

or comparison, Delta is 70 per cent more infectious than the Alpha strain, which it outpaced earlier this year.  

Hours later, a report by an Israeli news channel claimed the Pfizer jab was 90 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron, only slightly less than Delta. 

The Channel 12 news broadcast also claimed the super variant is just 30 per cent more infectious than Delta — much lower than initially feared.  

For comparison, Delta is 70 per cent more infectious than the Alpha strain, which it outpaced earlier this year. 

A spokesperson for the country’s Health Ministry last night said it was not yet in possession of this data. 

But Dr van Kerkhove, the Covid technical lead at the WHO, said she has seen reports of people infected with Omicron ranging from mild symptoms ‘all the way through to severe disease’.

She said there are ‘some suggestions’ Omicron is more transmissible than Delta and we should have a firm answer in the coming days.  

‘There is some indication that some of the patients are presenting with mild disease, but again it is early days. We have a surveillance bias right now in terms of the cases that are being detected,’ Dr van Kerkhove added. 

If the reports are confirmed it will be a massive relief to the UK which last night launched a mammoth booster programme for all adults, using Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs, with the hope of curbing the mutant variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all 53million adults in the UK will be offered a third dose by the end of January.

Some 32 Omicron cases have been detected in the UK. The figure is expected to grow and there is thought to be transmission of the strain within the community already. 

Meanwhile, No10’s scientific advisors SAGE today warned Omicron could cause a ‘significant wave’ on hospitalisations in a worst-case scenario.

The expert panel called for all UK arrivals to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, because current travel curbs are allowing a ‘significant’ number of infected people to slip through the cracks. 

The UK and US are both recording much higher levels of infection than South Africa - the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak - but cases are rising sharply and are up 400 per cent in a week

The UK and US are both recording much higher levels of infection than South Africa – the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak – but cases are rising sharply and are up 400 per cent in a week

South Africa's case numbers are likely to be an underestimate because the country is doing far fewer tests than the UK, but a comparable number to the US

South Africa’s case numbers are likely to be an underestimate because the country is doing far fewer tests than the UK, but a comparable number to the US

Just a quarter of South Africans have had two Covid vaccine doses compared to almost 60 per cent in the US and 70 per cent in the UK

The above graph shows the seven-day average for the change in Covid cases week-on-week. It reveals that cases are now rising in every province of South Africa. It is not clear how many are linked to Omicron, but scientists there say the variant has already spread to every province of the country

The above graph shows the seven-day average for the change in Covid cases week-on-week. It reveals that cases are now rising in every province of South Africa. It is not clear how many are linked to Omicron, but scientists there say the variant has already spread to every province of the country

SAGE calls for compulsory five-day isolation and ‘fit to fly’ tests for all UK arrivals

All UK arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, SAGE has advised.

The expert panel warned the current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty. 

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

In minutes leaked from an emergency meeting held on Monday, SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain. 

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty. 

But WHO boss Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus said despite Omicron spreading to 23 countries and showing no signs of slowing down, it is ‘deeply concerning’ that African countries — where cases are concentrated — are being ‘penalised’ through travel bans.

He told a WHO press briefing: ‘WHO takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country.

‘But it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do. And it’s what this virus will continue to do as long as we allow it to continue spreading.

‘We’re learning more all the time about Omicron, but there is still more to learn about its effect on transmission, severity of disease and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines.’ 

Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Botswana and South Africa ‘are now being penalised by others for doing the right thing’ through travel bans.

He added: ‘We call on all countries to take rational, proportional, risk-reduction measures in keeping with international health regulations. 

‘This includes measures to delay or reduce the spread of the new variant, such as screening of passengers prior to travelling and or upon arrival, or the application of quarantine to international travellers.

‘Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of Omicron and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,’ he said. 

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