Five-week data from the administrative capital Pretoria and the nearby municipality show that hospital admissions are lower across all age groups. Among those aged 60 and over, the incidence of severe illness appears to be 50 percent lower than that of the delta wave. This age group is also the most vaccinated in South Africa, in both rural and urban areas.
“For the first time, there are more non-severe patients than critical patients in the hospital,” said Dr. Jassat, who oversees hospital admissions at the institute.
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“We need to interpret the data with less severity in light of the high serum prevalence and some vaccine coverage,” said Dr. Jassat.
She warned that this picture could change as this latest outbreak spreads to other parts of South Africa.
Hospital admissions are growing rapidly in KwaZulu-Natal, where the percentage of adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine is the lowest in the country at less than 38 percent. Daily hospitalization in the province rose to 971 on December 15 from December 79 to December 1. The number of admissions to intensive care units also increased to 22.
Most of these patients are not vaccinated, said Dr. Sandil Tshabalala, head of the provincial health department, and 41 percent of intensive care patients require ventilation.
Early data on the spread of Omicron in South Africa seems to be in line with research suggesting vaccination will reduce the risk of severe illness. In the Western Cape, where two-thirds of people over 60 are vaccinated, the gap between new infections and hospitalizations has widened as the number of vaccinations increased, said provincial health department head Dr Keith Cloete.
And in Gauteng province, the test positive rate appears to be declining, dropping to 25 percent after hovering around 30 percent last week, raising hopes that the tide may escalate. However, this rate is increasing in all other provinces as the number of new cases grows in the country.