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Omicron variant could outcompete highly contagious Delta, says South African disease expert

The discovery of Omicron has sparked global concern, with governments restricting travel from southern Africa for fear that it may spread swiftly even among vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization warning of a high risk of infection spikes.

Omicron variant could outcompete delta says south african disease expert gcw
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South Africa, First Published Dec 1, 2021, 4:07 PM IST
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The Omicron coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa may be the most probable candidate to replace the hazardous Delta version, according to the director of South Africa's communicable disease institute on Tuesday. The discovery of Omicron has sparked global concern, with governments restricting travel from southern Africa for fear that it may spread swiftly even among vaccinated populations and the World Health Organization warning of a high risk of infection spikes.

According to Adrian Puren, acting executive director of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, "we questioned what would outcompete Delta." If Omicron proves to be even more transmissible than the Delta version, it might result in a dramatic increase in infections, putting hospitals under strain. Puren predicted that scientists would know in four weeks whether Omicron may defy immunity induced by vaccinations or past infection and whether it causes worse clinical symptoms than other variations.

Anecdotal anecdotes from clinicians who have treated South African COVID-infected patients say Omicron appears to be causing modest symptoms, including a dry cough, fever, and night sweats. Puren stated that it was too early to tell if Omicron was displacing Delta in South Africa because local scientists had only produced 87 Omicron sequences so far. However, instances have begun to climb fast, particularly in Gauteng, South Africa's most populous province, suggesting that some relocation may already be taking place.

Also Read | Omicron threat: India puts regular international flights resumption from December 15 on hold

Delta was responsible for the third wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa, peaked at around 26,000 cases per day in early July. Omicron is predicted to cause the fourth wave, with daily infections estimated to exceed 10,000 by the end of the week, up from roughly 2,270 on Monday.

South Africa has been lauded for alerting the world scientific community and WHO to Omicron so swiftly – a daring action considering the damage that travel restrictions enforced by many nations, including the United Kingdom, will bring to the country's key tourist economy. During the epidemic, the government recorded about 3 million COVID-19 infections and over 89,000 fatalities, the largest African continent.

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