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South African doctors notice signs that omicron is milder then delta

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) -- Dr. Unben Pillay sees dozens of patients each day as the omicron variant sweeps across South Africa. He hasn't even had to take anyone to the hospital.

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South African doctors notice signs that omicron is milder then delta

He and other medical professionals suspect that the omicron variant is causing milder COVID-19 symptoms than the delta version, even though it appears to be spreading more quickly.

Pillay stated that his patients were able to manage their disease at home. Pillay stated that most patients have recovered in the 10- to 14-day isolation period.

He said that this includes patients who are older or have health conditions that could make them more susceptible to getting a severe infection by the coronavirus.

Other doctors have also shared similar stories in the two weeks that have passed since the first omicron was reported in Southern Africa. While it may take several weeks to gather enough data, the early evidence and their observations offer some clues.

According to South Africa's National Institute for Communicable diseases:

About 30% of COVID-19-infected patients in recent weeks were not considered seriously ill. This is less than half of the rate seen during previous pandemic waves.

The average hospital stay for COVID-19 patients has been shortened by 2.8 days, compared to eight days.

Only 3% of COVID-19-infected patients have died in recent years, compared to 20% during earlier epidemics.

"At the moment almost everything points towards it being milder disease," Willem Hanekom said, citing figures from the African Health Research Institute and other reports. It's still early and we need more data. We are just two weeks into this wave, which means that many deaths and hospitalizations occur later.

Scientists around the globe are monitoring hospitalization rates and case counts, and testing current vaccines to determine if they work. Omicron cases are increasing in many countries, with South Africa being the epicenter. While delta remains the predominant coronavirus strain, it is not the only one.

Pillay is a doctor in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. There the omicron version of Pillay has taken root. South Africa's largest province, it has 16 million inhabitants and also includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital. According to health officials, Gauteng saw an increase of 400% in new cases during the first week in December. Testing showed that omicron was responsible for more than 90%.

Pillay claims that his COVID-19 patients in the last delta wave had "trouble breathing" and low oxygen levels. Pillay said that many of the patients needed to be hospitalized within days. He said that the flu-like symptoms of his patients now include body aches, coughs, and other symptoms.

Pillay, who is also a director for an association that represents approximately 5,000 general practitioners in South Africa, and his fellow doctors have made similar observations regarding omicron. Netcare, the largest provider of private healthcare, also reports less severe cases.

However, the number of cases is increasing. South Africa has confirmed 224,000 new cases Thursday, and 19,000 Friday. This is an increase of 200 per day just a few weeks back. Minister of Health Joe Phaahla stated Friday that the new surge has infected 90,000.

Phaahla stated that Omicron is responsible for the resurgence, citing studies showing that 70% of all new cases in the country are omicron-related.

He said that the coronavirus reproduction rate for the current wave, which indicates the likelihood of one person being infected, is 2.5. This is the highest recorded in South Africa during the pandemic.

Waasila Jassat is a National Institute for Communicable diseases (NICD) hospital data tracker.

Jassat stated that 86% of the hospitalized patients in this current wave were not vaccinated against coronavirus. South Africa's COVID-patients now are also younger than during other periods of the pandemic. About two-thirds of them are below 40.

Jassat stated that although the initial signs of omicron are less severe, there may still be a high number of COVID-19 cases that overwhelm South Africa's hospitals. This could lead to more severe symptoms and even death.

She said, "That is the danger always in the waves."

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