Too early to say omicron would cause mild illness: Scientists
- South African scientists apprised the lawmakers about the nature of omicron on Wednesday
- Scientists said the severity of illness could be less among vaccinated people
- The daily number of new confirmed cases in South Africa doubled to 8,561 in the last 24 hours
South African scientists said it is too early to determine that the omicron variant will only cause mild illness as it has so far affected only the young people, who could be better placed to fight off the virus.
However, the scientists, in their presentation to lawmakers on Wednesday, said people tend to develop severe illness after carrying the virus for some time, reported Bloomberg.
The latest infections have occurred "mostly in the younger age groups but we are starting to see this move into the older age groups," Michelle Groome, head of public health surveillance and response at the NICD, told the lawmakers. "We are also expecting that the more severe complications may not present themselves for a few weeks,” he said during the presentation.
Earlier the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the daily number of new confirmed cases in South Africa, where the first case of omicron was detected, almost doubled to 8,561 in the last 24 hours. Omicron is now by far the dominant variant in the country.
On November 25, the South African government announced the emergence of a new variant in Pretoria. The World Health Organisation (WHO) called the new variant of coronavirus a “variant of concern”. It caused a stock market disruption as countries across the world started imposing a travel ban on South Africa and several southern African countries where the variant was detected.
‘Non-vaccinated people unprotected against Omicron’
Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist, said the severity of disease caused by the new variant could be mild because of the fact that most of the people have already contracted other variants or have been inoculated, giving them some immunity.
"If this virus and this variant spreads very efficiently through the population, then it will still be able to find those people in the population who are unvaccinated and may be unprotected against severe disease," he said. "That's what also concerns us when we think about the continent more generally."
At present, South Africa's vaccination rate is higher than most African nations but lower than western nations, with about a quarter of the population fully inoculated. Across the continent of 1.3 billion people, only 6.7% are fully vaccinated, with only 0.1% of the 100 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, having received their shots.
"We expect that the protection you have against severe disease is much more difficult for this variant to get around," Lessells told the lawmakers. "We don't expect this will have any effect on the therapeutics we use,” he said.