South Africa: Omicron 'Flash Flood' Has Passed

Johns Hopkins University says US reported 647K cases Thursday
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2021 6:31 AM CST
South Africa: Omicron 'Flash Flood' Has Passed
Sandile Cele at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, researches the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus Wednesday Dec. 15, 2021.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

The omicron variant is pushing COVID case numbers to record levels in numerous countries—including the US, which reported a staggering 647,076 cases Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. But in South Africa, one of the countries to first detect the variant, scientists believe the worst is over. The South African government said Thursday that the omicron peak had apparently passed with no major rise in deaths corresponding to the rise in cases. Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council said the surge has passed with "staggering speed"; he compared it to a "flash flood" rather than a wave. "Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two," he tweeted.

"Hospital admissions rose and declined rapidly, following the trajectory of the cases," Abdullah tweeted. "Admissions peaked within 3 weeks and started declining to significantly lower levels in the two weeks following the peak." It's not clear whether the US will follow the same trajectory—or when the peak will be reached. University of Washington epidemiologist Ali Mokdad predicts that while the rate of hospitalization in the US will be lower than during earlier waves, American hospitals will still be swamped with cases. "We’ll be in for a tough January, as cases will keep going up and peak, and then fall fast," Mokdad says, per the New York Times. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted this week that the peak might not arrive until the end of January.

The South African government said Thursday that there were 89,781 confirmed cases in the week up to Dec. 25, down from 127,753 the week before, the BBC reports. The country has now lifted an overnight curfew, though the public is still being urged to follow protocols including mask-wearing. In the US, meanwhile, numerous states, including New York and Arkansas, saw record high case numbers Thursday. Some hard-hit states, including Ohio, have called in the National Guard. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)

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