Infection rates are soaring across South Africa as a result of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, but fewer people have died or required hospital treatment compared to previous waves of Covid, health officials said Friday.
On Wednesday, South Africa recorded the highest number of infections the nation has ever seen in the pandemic, driven by the rapid spread of Omicron, said Michelle Groome, of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
“The hospitalisations are not increasing at such a dramatic rate,” she told a news conference.
“We are starting to see some increases, but relatively small increases in deaths.”
Wassila Jassat, also from the NICD, said the number of people requiring oxygen was “lower than what it was in comparison to any of the previous wave periods.”
“Patients do seem to stay for a shorter duration,” she said.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said that the data do not mean that Omicron is less virulent, but rather than vaccines are preventing serious illness.
“It’s probably due to significant vaccine coverage,” particularly among older people, he said.
About 31% of the population is fully vaccinated, but the number rises to 66% for people over 60. Older people are most at risk of developing serious symptoms.
The highly mutated Omicron strain was first detected in South Africa and Botswana last month, sparking global panic over fears that it is more contagious than other variants.
With more than three million cases, South Africa is by far the hardest-hit country on the continent.