Thursday, December 23, 2021

S Africa, Ground Zero For Omicron, Now Seeing Surprising Plunge In Cases

Shirin Ali 

South Africa is the country that first discovered the omicron variant and experienced a surge of new cases in early December, but now health officials are saying that peak is actually subsiding.

South Africa’s top infectious disease scientist, Salim Abdool Karim, explained on Wednesday that the country had passed the peak of new omicron cases, according to The Washington Post. 

“If previous variants caused waves shaped like Kilimanjaro, omicron’s is more like we were scaling the North Face of Everest,” said Karim.

Karim said that the trend in new cases is going southbound. However, last week omicron accounted for nearly every new coronavirus case in South Africa, but yet recent data indicates there’s a slow decline beginning.

The National Institutes for Communicable Diseases found that as of Dec. 22, the seven-day average of positive new cases was 29.8 percent, slightly down from the day before, at 30.1 percent.  

The Post noted that a week ago South Africa experienced skyrocketing positivity rates, but as of this week there has been a turnaround in COVID-19 rates and testing facilities have been less stressed. South Africa also decided against imposing any lockdowns or other major restrictions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also said early this month that despite the omicron variant surging by 93 percent in countries in Africa, there was preliminary data indicating that hospitalizations across South Africa remained low. 

As to why South Africa is seeing a sharp decline in omicron cases, Karim told the Post that both the quick rise of cases and omicron’s lower severity of illness could be a factor. However, it could also be country-specific, because in South Africa more than 70 percent of the population has been previously infected with other COVID-19 variants, giving their population a more robust antibody response.

“In South Africa, variants, even highly mutated ones, will run out of people pretty quickly. Pretty much by the end of last week it was running out of steam; there just aren’t enough people left to infect,” said Karim. 

Karim estimated that South Africa is “between two and three weeks ahead of the U.S., about two ahead of Norway and Denmark, and substantially ahead of, probably up to four weeks, the U.K. and the rest of Europe.”

Essentially, what’s happening in South Africa is good news for everyone, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating this week that the omicron variant made up about 73 percent of all new U.S. COVID-19 cases. 

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