The number of COVID-19 cases in South Africa, where scientists first alerted the world to the now-raging Omicron variant last month, appears to have peaked, the country’s top infectious disease expert said Wednesday.
Salim Abdool Karim, who is heading up South Africa’s pandemic response, told the Washington Post the nation of 59 million has seemingly passed its peak of new Omicron cases and expects to see the “same trajectory” play out in almost every other country across the globe.
“If previous variants caused waves shaped like Kilimanjaro, Omicron’s is more like we were scaling the north face of Everest,” Karim told the newspaper in reference to South Africa’s sharp rise in cases during the first weeks of December.
“Now we’re going down, right back down, the south face,” Karim continued. “And that is the way we think it may work with a variant like Omicron, and perhaps even more broadly what we’ll see with subsequent variants at this stage of the pandemic.”
More than 3.3 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Africa, where at least 90,587 people have died from the virus.AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File
The sharp peak in cases and the variant’s lower risk of severe illness or death may be attributed to more than 70 percent of South Africans having been infected by earlier strains, likely leading to a stronger antibody response, Karim said.
“In South Africa, variants, even highly mutated ones, will run out of people pretty quickly,” Karim continued. “Pretty much by the end of last week it was running out of steam; there just aren’t enough people left to infect.”
More than 3.3 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Africa, where at least 90,587 people have died from the virus, according to data released Wednesday.
According to officials, case numbers had dropped to 15,423 as of December 21, 2021.AP Photo/Jerome DelayOut of some 69,014 tests conducted, 21,099 new cases were identified in the prior 24 hours. AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File
Some 21,099 new cases were identified in the prior 24 hours out of some 69,014 tests conducted, or a positivity rate of 30.6%. The number of new cases exceeds South Africa’s seven-day average of 18,195 but is still lower than some recent daily case counts.
Karim told the Washington Post that Omicron accounted for nearly every COVID-19 case in South Africa last week. In the US, that figure stood at 73%, and Karim believes other countries will soon see a drop in their cases as well.
“Based on the proportion of sequences that come back as Omicron, I’d say we are probably between two and three weeks ahead of the US, about two ahead of Norway and Denmark, and substantially ahead of, probably up to four weeks, the UK and the rest of Europe,” Karim told the Washington Post.
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“But what we’re seeing here in South Africa at least tentatively should be good news for everyone,” he said.
Thursday’s tally was 24,785 cases, but those numbers had dropped to 15,423 as of Tuesday. In the country’s most populous province, the decrease began even earlier, the Associated Press reported.
“The drop in new cases nationally combined with the sustained drop in new cases seen here in Gauteng province, which for weeks has been the center of this wave, indicates that we are past the peak,” said Marta Nunes, a senior researcher at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“It was a short wave,” Nunes continued. “And the good news is that it was not very severe in terms of hospitalizations and deaths.”
A “very steep increase” in cases following by a similarly steep decrease is not uncommon in epidemiology, Nunes said.
Omicron, which has been detected in at least 89 countries, was classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26. The first confirmed US case was later identified on Dec. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An unvaccinated man from the Houston area is believed to be the first person in the US to die from the Omicron variant, health officials said Monday. The man in his 50s had underlying health conditions and survived an earlier bout of the virus. At least seven deaths have been reported in the United Kingdom.
With Post wires