South African Covid cases fall AGAIN by 22% on last week fuelling hopes that their Omicron wave is over
- South Africa recorded 21,099 new cases in the last 24 hours, down by 22%
- And test positivity — which has been trending downwards — dropped to 28%
- Hospitalisations reached highest level in Omicron wave and deaths jumped 45%
Daily Covid cases in South Africa have fallen again by 22 per cent compared to last week’s figures, fuelling hopes that the country’s Omicron wave is over.
South Africa, whose scientists detected the variant, recorded 21,099 new cases in the last 24 hours, down by nearly a quarter on the 26,976 infections confirmed last Wednesday.
A fifth fewer people were tested for the virus in the last 24 hours compared to the same period last week, but test positivity — the proportion of those tested who are infected — has been trending downwards for nine days.
Hospitalisations have also seen a slight decline, with more than 590 people admitted to hospitals across the country, down by four per cent in a week, data from the National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD), revealed.
But deaths – which lag two to three weeks behind the pattern seen in case numbers due to the delay in an infected person becoming seriously unwell – have risen.
A further 99 Covid-related deaths were recorded on Wednesday, compared to 54 recorded a week ago.
The falling case numbers come despite only 25 per cent of South Africans being double-jabbed and boosters not being dished out in the country.
It raises hopes that the UK’s Omicron wave will also be short-lived, with Britain also having a layer of protection in its booster programme.
Omicron is up to 45 per cent less likely to cause hospitalisation than Delta, according to the first major real-world British study by ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson.
Senior SAGE scientist Neil Ferguson — who just last week warned there could be up to 5,000 daily Omicron deaths in the UK — said the country’s fourth wave will be ‘nothing like what we seen last year, with ICUs overflowing with patients’ on the back of the new findings.
His team at Imperial College London found that overall, Britons who catch Omicron are between 15 and 20 per cent less likely to be admitted than those who get Delta.
But the real-world analysis, of more than 3,000 people between December 1 and 14, found the chance of having to stay in the NHS overnight was even lower, with a reduced risk of between 40 and 45 per cent.
The findings are believed to have been the reason Boris Johnson pumped the brakes on tougher Christmas restrictions despite case numbers rising to record levels — with 106,122 positive tests recorded today.
The latest study found that even an unvaccinated person who has never had Covid and has no immunity, there was a 10 per cent lower risk of being hospitalised with Omicron compared to Delta.
For someone how has been recently infected, the chance of hospitalisation was slashed by 69 per cent in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
The finding may explain why in South Africa — where up to 70 per cent of people have immunity from prior infection but only a quarter are jabbed — is seeing daily hospitalisations stall at less than 400.
Professor Ferguson said: ‘You can see in London, we are getting a lot more people hospitalised. Not for very long, probably not with very severe illness.
‘And that’s not a reflection of Omicron versus Delta — that was already true for Delta infections, that they’re less severe than they were last year because there’s a lot of immunity in the population.
‘The challenge is, if there’s enough of them it still poses quite a challenge to the NHS. We’re not talking about anything like what we saw last year with over-flowing intensive care units and ventilator beds.’
The notoriously gloomy expert confirmed he expected the Omicron wave to be milder, with patients discharged from hospitals quicker and fewer Covid deaths, but warned there could still be significant pressure on the NHS.
He also warned that if infections are 40 per cent higher than they were with Delta then that could offset any reduction in severity.
The data came just moments after a similar study conducted in Scotland found the risk of being hospitalised with Omicron was 65 per cent less with Omicron than with Delta.
University of Edinburgh researchers said Omicron was as severe as delta they would have seen around 47 people in hospital in Scotland, yet so far there are only 15.
It comes as UK scientists wait for data on how deadly the Omicron surge will be, with uncertainties about how severe it is and how well vaccines protect against serious outcomes.
But promisingly, cases already appear to be plateauing in the UK, with around 90,000 daily infections recorded for the last six days.
That’s despite gloomy Government modelling warning that 1million Britons could be catching the virus daily by the end of the year.
Boris Johnson today said no to Christmas curbs because there is ‘no evidence’ on Omicron to justify it.
The NICD confirmed 69,014 people had been tested across South Africa in the last 24 hours and 21,099 tested positive.
Some 3.3million people in the country have tested positive since the pandemic began, but the true figure will be many millions more as not everyone who catches the virus is tested.
The majority of the new cases were recorded in Kwazulu-Natal (5,411), followed by Western Cape (4,609), as the virus spreads away from the ground zero Gauteng.
The province, which is home to Johannesburg and is where Omicron was first spotted, recorded the third-most cases (3,807).
Meanwhile, 593 people were hospitalised in the last day, down by about four per cent in a week, bringing the country’s total number of hospitalisations since the pandemic began to 461,430.
A total of 9,324 people are currently receiving hospital care.
And a further 99 Covid deaths were recorded, up by nearly 50 per cent on last Wednesday when 54 fatalities were were registered.
The data from the country suggests the outbreak is fading around a month after it was first detected, while ministers and scientists in the UK are panicking about the impact the wave will have over the coming weeks.
And the UK has strengthened its response to the variant through its booster campaign, while third jabs have not been dished out in South Africa and just 23 per cent of its population are vaccinated.
However, UK experts have warned Britain’s older and denser population is more susceptible to a big and deadly outbreak.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whity last week said he expected to see the UK’s daily cases rise extraordinarily due to Omicron, but also ‘come down faster than previous peaks’, mirroring South Africa’s experience with the strain.
Professor Whitty told MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee last week: ‘I think what we will see with this is — and I think we’re seeing it in South Africa — is that the upswing will be very incredibly fast even if people are taking more cautious action.
He added: ‘It’ll probably therefore peak really quite fast.
‘My anticipation is it may then come down faster than previous peaks but I wouldn’t want to say that for sure.’
It comes as more than 100,000 Covid cases were recorded across the UK today for the first time as Wales announced tougher New Year curbs in two developments that could pile pressure on Boris Johnson to go further with lockdown curbs.
Government dashboard data shows there were 106,122 positive tests across the country in the past 24 hours, up by a third on the figure last week and eclipsing the previous record of 93,045 last Friday.
While today’s cases are the most ever recorded in a single day, there are signs the week-on-week growth rate is slowing, down from 52 per cent yesterday and around 70 per cent on some days at the weekend.
The rise of Omicron is out of step with gloomy Government modelling that predicted the mutant super-strain was doubling every two days and could lead to a million infections per day by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, latest hospital data shows there were 813 admissions across the UK on December 18, marking an increase of just five per cent in a week. Deaths dropped 15 per cent week-on-week to 140.
Hospital admissions are rising more slowly than in previous waves and a growing body of evidence suggests Omicron is causing milder illness.
Official data showed there were another 302 hospital admissions in London on December 20, the latest date data is available for, which was up 79 per cent in a week — but still a fraction of the peak during the second wave, when there were 850.
Ministers are said to be watching admission rates in the capital before pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak.
Government sources say officials are considering a national two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown after Christmas if London’s daily admissions breach 400 this week — which would signal ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the NHS.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that Mr Johnson had made the right decision because cases ‘look like they’ve peaked’.
He said: ‘It’s not all doom and gloom, it does look like Omicron has stopped growing. The numbers over the last few days seem to have plateaued and maybe even be falling.
‘It’s a bit too soon to be absolutely sure about that, but if it is the case Boris Johnson will breathe a sigh of relief. We have to be a little bit careful because it’s only a few days.
‘And because we’re getting closer to Christmas there is nervousness that people may not come forward for testing because they don’t want to test positive and miss out on meeting relatives.
‘Omicron overtook the other variants around December 14 so most of any changes from there on would be down to Omicron. So if it was still doubling every two days that would have shown and we should have been at 200,000 cases yesterday and certainly more than 200,000 cases today.
‘But the fact it has been around 91,000 raises the point that it might actually have peaked. But it will probably take until at least Wednesday to get an idea of a day that is not affected by the weekend. But I am more optimistic than I was a few days ago.’
There were 1.49million tests conducted today which is down from 1.56 million last Wednesday, but Professor Hunter said the ‘relatively small drop’ in testing would not hide a virus truly doubling every two days.
Test positivity is slowly increasing though with 13 per cent of samples positive for the virus by December 15, up from around 9 per cent the month before.
Latest hospital figures show there were 847 Covid admissions across the UK on December 17, up only 7 per cent on the previous week. There were a further 172 Covid deaths today, up 14 per cent.
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