Despite reports of milder symptoms Omicron should not be underestimated
As the world scrambles to contain the new variant, some are hopefully seizing on anecdotal reports from South Africa that it may cause only mild illness. But although previous variants of the coronavirus have been associated with different symptoms and severity, it would be dangerous to assume that Omicron is a viral pussy cat, experts say.
At a briefing convened by South Africa’s Department of Health on Monday, Unben Pillay, a GP from practising in Midrand on the outskirts of Johannesburg, said that while “it is still early days” the cases he was seeing were typically mild: “We are seeing patients present with dry cough, fever, night sweats and a lot of body pains. Vaccinated people tend to do much better.”
Meanwhile, Pretoria-based GP Dr Angelique Coetzee said many of the patients she’d seen were presenting with unusual symptoms, particularly severe tiredness, and none were reporting loss of taste or smell.
While it may take several weeks before we get any definitive answers regarding the nature of the threat posed by Omicron, early evidence is emerging that vaccines do offer at least some protection. Dr Wassila Jassat from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said that in the South African city of Tshwane, where Omicron was detected, 87% of hospital admissions were among unvaccinated patients.