Health data suggests South Africa’s Omicron peak has passed with no major spike in deaths

A study out of South Africa found the country may have already passed the peak of it omicron-fueled surge in cases of the coronavirus, with data suggesting the variant has not caused a corresponding jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

The study looked at the rate at which the fourth surge in cases progressed in the South African city of Tshwane, which researchers described as the “global epicentre” of the omicron wave.

Researchers looked at hospital records from a Tshwane hospital system and compared them to prior surges. Based on their analysis, the omicron wave “spread and declined in the City of Tshwane with unprecedented speed peaking within 4 weeks of its commencement.”

The study determined that the wave peaked during the week of Dec. 5, roughly four weeks after an exponential increase in cases was observed.

According to the researchers, peak hospital bed occupancy during the omicron wave was half of what was observed during the delta wave, and the distribution of patient ages was younger. Omicron currently accounts for 95 percent of sequenced cases in the Gauteng Province, where Tshwane is situated.

“The changing clinical presentation of SARS-CoV-2 infection is likely due to high levels of prior infection and vaccination coverage,” researchers wrote, adding that roughly two thirds of Tshwane residents have some form of immunity from COVID-19, either from vaccination or prior infection.

“The speed with which the Omicron driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering. Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two This Omicron wave is over in the City of Tshwane,” Fareed Abdullah, director of the South African Medical Research Council’s AIDS and tuberculosis research, wrote on Twitter.

“It was a flash flood more than a wave,” he said.

Abdullah also shared a graph showing the rate of COVID-19 deaths and cases in South Africa over the course of the pandemic and noted the significantly lower peak in deaths when compared to previous peaks.

“Is this hybrid immunity or lower virulence?” Abdullah asked.

The study follows anecdotal reports from South Africa that the omicron variant resulted in milder cases of illness, though health experts had warned against taking these reports to heart, as most of the early cases omicron had been among younger individuals.

Tags COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa omicron SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2

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