The Omicron variant of Covid-19 appears to be reinfecting people at a higher rate than previous strains, experts in South Africa have said, as public health officials and scientists monitor developments in the country where Omicron was first identified.
This comes after the EU’s public health agency recently warned that Omicron could cause more than half of all new Covid infections in Europe within the next few months.
“We believe that previous infection does not provide protection from Omicron,” said Anne von Gottberg, an expert at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa.
In mid-November South Africa was reporting about 300 Covid cases a day. On Wednesday it reported 8,561 new cases, up from 4,373 the day before and 2,273 on Monday.
Outlining early research into the newly emerged variant, Von Gottberg said doctors were seeing “an increase for Omicron reinfections [of Covid-19]”.
She said: “We believe the number of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces of the country. We believe that vaccines will still, however, protect against severe disease. Vaccines have always held out to protect against serious disease, hospitalisations, and death.”
Scientists from the same institute have said initial data suggests that Omicron may provoke less severe illness than previous strains, and that many of the first Omicron cases have been identified in younger individuals or detected in very recently screened travellers.
Doctors in Gauteng province said Covid patients with Omicron variant were presenting with flu-like symptoms including a dry cough that could be treated at home.