- BBC News World
The number of new confirmed daily COVID-19 cases in South Africa increased in just 24 hours, from about 8,500 on Wednesday to about 11,500 on Thursday.
By comparison, there were about 200-300 new infections a day in that country by mid-November, a renowned South African scientist told the BBC.
This sudden increase comes at a time when omicron, the new and highly mutated variant of the coronavirus, is spreading across South Africa.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases of that country (NICD, for its acronym in English) reported that more ofl 70% of all the virus genomes that it has sequenced in the last month correspond to omicron.
This new variant is already present in at least 24 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which classified it as a “variant of concern.”
Scientists from the South African NICD and the WHO have pointed out that apparently those who have been infected by other variants of the coronavirus do not appear to be protected against omicron, although vaccines are believed to remain effective in protecting against severe forms of the disease.
On South Africa only around a 24% of the population she is fully vaccinated.
“Previous infections used to protect against the delta variant, but with omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Anne von Gottberg, a microbiologist at the NICD.
The real situation in South Africa will not be clear until “people are so sick that they need to go to a hospital”, which usually occurs “three to four weeks later”, says Professor Salim Abdool Karim of the Africa Task Force for the coronavirus.
“But the information we are receiving from the street is that there are really no warning signs, we are not seeing anything dramatically different, what we are seeing is something we were already used to,” the expert told the BBC program Newsday.
Pumza Fihlani, a BBC correspondent in Johannesburg, the largest South African city, indicates that restaurants and supermarkets in the country remain full of people, getting ready for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
There people are talking about the new variant, but so far there are no signs of great concern.
India, Ghana, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the countries that have recently confirmed their first cases of omicron, a variant about which there are still many unanswered questions, including how much protection vaccines offer.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.