South Africa’s coronavirus cases have doubled in a 24-hour period following the first detection of the omicron variant in the country last week.
Authorities said there were 8,561 news cases recorded in South Africa on Wednesday, up from 4,373 on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
Although it is too early to tell if the surge is due to the omicron variant, scientists say it is possible the new strain could be a factor.
“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, a virologist at the World Health Organization's Regional Office for Africa, told the AP. “There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in number of cases being identified in South Africa.”
“The current data that we’re having is still very limited. So there are so many additional characteristics of this virus that the researchers are busy studying, of which transmissibility is one of them. Severity is also another,” she added.
The omicron variant was announced by scientists last week in South Africa and has since spread to more than 20 countries.
The U.S. reported its first case of the omicron variant in California on Wednesday after a person who traveled back from South Africa was found to have been infected with the new strain.
Multiple countries, including the U.S., have banned travel from southern African countries in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the variant.