Dec. 2, 2021 — South Africa’s COVID-19 cases almost doubled within 24 hours, jumping from a reported 4,300 new cases on Tuesday to 8,500 new daily cases on Wednesday, according to the BBC.
Health officials have confirmed that the new Omicron variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain in South Africa and is driving a sharp increase in new infections.
“There is a possibility that really, we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, PhD, a regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press.
“There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in the number of cases being identified in South Africa,” she said.
In early November, the country reported 200 to 300 new cases per day and had a 1% positivity rate. But cases began to increase quickly in mid-November, and Wednesday’s positivity rate reached 16.5%, the AP reported.
South Africa was the first country to detect the new Omicron variant and report it to the WHO. The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said Wednesday that 74% of the virus genomes sequenced in November have been of the new variant, the BBC reported.
As of Thursday morning, 25 countries have reported 329 cases of the Omicron variant to GISAID, a global database for genomic sequencing. The latest countries to confirm their first cases include the U.S., India, and Ghana.
Hospitalizations are increasing in South Africa but not at the rate of the new cases. So far, hospital admissions are following the same trend as previous COVID-19 surges in the country, according to an analysis by the Financial Times.
Scientists have expressed concerns about the large number of mutations on the Omicron variant, though they can’t quite say whether the variant is more transmissible, causes more severe COVID-19, or evades vaccines. Labs in South Africa are focusing on genomic sequencing of Omicron cases to answer those questions.
“The world is watching South Africa,” Deenan Pillay, PhD, a professor of virology at University College London, told the Financial Times.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know about Omicron,” he said. “Real world clinical data from South Africa will provide us with some of the first answers.”