South African scientists see no sign that the Omicron coronavirus variant is causing more severe illness, they said on Friday, as officials announced plans to roll out vaccine boosters with daily infections approaching an all-time high.
Hospital data show that COVID-19 admissions are now rising sharply in more than half of the country’s nine provinces, but deaths are not rising as dramatically and indicators such as the median length of hospital stay are reassuring.
Although scientists say more time is needed to arrive at a definitive conclusion, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the signs on severity were positive.
“Preliminary data does suggest that while there is an increasing rate of hospitalization… it looks like it is purely because of the numbers rather than as a result of any severity of the variant itself, this Omicron,” he said.
South Africa reported more than 22,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a record during the current fourth wave of infections driven by Omicron but still below a peak of more than 26,000 daily cases during a third wave fuelled by the Delta variant.