Death rates in South Africa’s Omicron Covid wave were just a QUARTER of levels seen during previous surges as scientists say ultra-infectious variant may ‘usher in endemic phase’
Researchers examined records of 450 patients hospitalised in the City of Tshwane since the extremely-transmissible variant took off in the country.
Their survival rates were then compared against nearly 4,000 patients hospitalised earlier on in the pandemic.
Just 4.5 per cent of patients hospitalised with Covid in the last month died from the virus. For comparison, the rate stood at around 21.3 per cent earlier in the pandemic.
The findings, in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, also revealed ICU admissions were a quarter of the rate seen in previous waves, and patients’ average hospital stay was halved.
The City of Tshwane is an authority situated in Gauteng — the first province to fall victim to Omicron.
Scientists behind the research said it shows ‘a decoupling of cases, hospitalisations and deaths compared to previous waves’.
Omicron could be a ‘harbinger of the end’ of the darkest days of the pandemic and could usher in the virus’s endemic phase, the team wrote.
Cases of Covid in South Africa are continuing to fall, as the wave caused by Omicron appears to burn itself out. The country, which was one of the first in the world to fall victim to Omicron, hit its peak in the seven days to December 17, when an average of 23,437 cases were recorded. But by Monday, the number had plummeted by 38 per cent to 14,390 cases
Number of English Covid patients ending up in hospital is now SEVEN TIMES lower than second wave
But mounting evidence now shows the strain causes less severe disease than previous strains, which the PM today used to justify his refusal to tighten curbs.
And MailOnline’s analysis of UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data adds to the slew of statistics that suggest the days of the UK recording several hundred deaths a day are ‘history’.
The proportion of Covid cases ending up in hospital a week later now stands at just 1.5 per cent, compared to 10.9 per cent during the depths of the country’s Delta crisis last January and February.
Experts told MailOnline immunity from vaccination and prior infection means ‘what we’re seeing this winter is a very different picture’ — but warned hospitalisations and deaths could still tick upwards in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, separate figures show five times fewer Covid-infected patients are hooked up to ventilators now than during the NHS’s darkest days fighting Delta. And data from South Africa — the first country to fall victim to the variant — shows Omicron is causing just a quarter of the number of deaths seen before it took hold.
Patients involved in the latest study were, however, much younger, which may have skewed the results.
But the academics, from South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the University of Pretoria, aren’t the first to show the virus is milder.
Other real-world studies from the UK and South Africa already reported that patients who catch the strain are up to 80 per cent less likely to be hospitalised.
But the new study is the first major examination of Omicron death data.
It also showed just one per cent of people were moved to intensive care, compared to 4.3 per cent in earlier waves.
And patients were discharged after four days during the Omicron wave on average, compared to almost nine towards the start of the pandemic.
Separately, the same experts also examined the records of 98 patients who were in hospital at the peak of hospital admissions.
Admissions in the City of Tshwane ‘peaked and declined rapidly’ within 33 days and just half of hospital beds were taken at any one time. During the Delta wave, almost all hospital beds were occupied at the peak.
Just one-third of the Covid patients were hospitalised because of the virus, while the others were admitted for incidental reasons.
The researchers said this level of incidental Covid has not been observed anywhere in South Africa before and ‘most likely reflects high levels of asymptomatic disease in the community with Omicron infection’ and ‘high levels of prior infection and vaccination coverage’.
Around two-thirds of people in the City of Tshwane have either been vaccinated or infected, according to the team.
Higher rates of incidental Omicron admissions could also be because the strain is inherently less severe but ‘more research is required to support this theory’, they said.
Similar patient and mortality findings are likely to emerge across South Africa — but ‘may differ’ in countries where vaccination and previous infection rates are lower, they said.
The study states that Omicron completely displaced Delta in three weeks but cases and hospitalisations peaked within five weeks.
And it said there are ‘clear signs’ both infections and admissions in South Africa will ‘decline further over the next few weeks’.
It comes after Covid cases in South Africa are continuing to fall, as the wave caused by Omicron appears to burn itself out.
The country, which was one of the first in the world to fall victim to Omicron, hit its peak in the seven days to December 17, when an average of 23,437 cases were recorded.
But by Monday, the number had plummeted by 38 per cent to 14,390 cases.
The figures are the average across seven days, making them more reliable than fluctuating day-to-day statistics, although fewer people get tested around Christmas and people in South Africa tend to leave large cities for rural areas, where they are less likely to get tested.