Out of South Africa, a 'Tantalizing Hint' on Omicron

Case count is dropping, at least in recent days
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2021 11:34 AM CST
South Africa Shares Cautiously Optimistic Omicron News
Sandile Cele, a researcher at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, works on the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus on Dec. 15, 2021.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

(Newser) – A new study out of South Africa offers some positive news on the omicron variant, but with an asterisk. The study, which appeared Tuesday in the preprint medical publication MedRxiv, found that South Africans who came down with the omicron variant were 80% less likely to be hospitalized compared to those infected with other strains. (This echoes earlier reports.) But Bloomberg reports on that asterisk: The study compared current numbers with delta infections between April and November, and it's not clear if the reduction in hospitalizations is because the variant behaves differently or because more of the population is vaccinated now as compared to during that time frame. Indeed, the study itself—which hasn't yet been peer-reviewed—notes "some of this reduction [in risk of hospitalization] is likely a result of high population immunity."

One more bright spot: The AP reports there has been a "noticeable drop" in new COVID cases in South Africa in the last few days, from a high of about 27,000 on Thursday to 15,424 on Tuesday. That's amplified by the numbers out of Gauteng province, home to Johannesburg and Pretoria and the most populous of all provinces, which started seeing a decrease even earlier. It "indicates that we are past the peak," says one expert. But the AP cautions that "daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays, and other fluctuations." Still, it allows that the numbers "are offering one tantalizing hint—far from conclusive yet—that omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike." (Read more omicron variant stories.)

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