One of the first doctors to raise the alarm about Omicron in South Africa says the variant is “definitely not the same as Delta” with most patients experiencing milder symptoms.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, Chair of the South African Medical Association, told The Hard Shoulder this evening that patients generally have milder symptoms and recover faster.
She said the variant has seen a surge in cases in South Africa – but not in hospitalisations or deaths.
Dr Coetzee said that, based on the South African experience, the reintroduction of tight restrictions is “a bit too much at this stage of the game”.
“The symptoms patients were complaining about - I am quite sure in all the other countries, it is the same - was the body aches and pains, the headache and the tiredness and the fatigue – you know, you just want to sleep," she said.
“You can have a bit of a sore throat, but it is more a scratchy type of thing and the cough is also more of a dryish type of cough.
“That is about it that you would normally present with. There would be no loss of smell or taste or any of the low oxygen levels or the elevated pulse that we normally see with Delta – none of that would be there.”
"Not the same"
Dr Coetzee said Delta patients, even in the early stages, normally start to develop problems with their pulse of oxygen levels.
“It is not the same with Omicron,” she said. “That is why we are saying it is mild symptoms. We’re not saying that you’re not going to be sick or you’re going to be on top of the world. We are just saying it is not the same as Delta.”
She said it is still early to definitively say Omicron is more transmissible than Delta
“What happened in South Africa and I see it is happening in some of the European countries, is that in the first few days, our cases did double but around a week and a half or two weeks later, it sort of stabilised,” she said.
“It isn’t doubling anymore. We have days where there are less cases.”
The Pretoria GP said the death rate in South Africa remains quite low.
“I’m not saying it is OK to lose any patient but if you look at the death rate in South Africa currently … it is really not as high as it was with Delta,” she said. “I am always saying that Delta is a very, very scary virus.
“Now don’t take it away from Omicron. Omicron might be just as scary for people who are unvaccinated with comorbidities, but time will tell us about that.”
She said all of her original Omicron patients have now fully recovered.
“That is the beauty of it,” she said. “All of them recovered in anything from three to seven days.
“What we have seen is we don’t even prescribe a lot of medication. You would normally prescribe something like Ibuprofen - that is I think common in most of the countries - with paracetamol and low dosage of Cortisone for five days and the recovery is more than half again what you would have seen in the mild Delta cases.”
Based on the current evidence, she said strict lockdowns are “a bit too much at this stage of the game.
“What you need to do is get jabs into the arms of people that haven’t been vaccinated yet,” she said. “That would be the first thing.
“Then it would be important not get people to adhere to whatever restrictions you have and then the mask-wearing.
“Then educate people about the symptoms. It is extremely important to understand the symptoms and get tested.”
While the vaccination rate in South Africa is much lower than in Ireland – around 43% of the adult population and around 24% of the total population – far more people have been previously infected.
As a result, experts, including Trinity Professor Kingston Mills, have warned that the Omicron experience in Ireland may not be as mild as it was in South Africa.
You can listen back to Dr Coetzee’s Hard Shoulder interview here: