A member of the medical staff works in the corridors of the intensive care unit where Covid-19 patients will be hospitalized at the Etterbeek-Ixelles hospital in Brussels on April 6, 2021.
JOHN THYS | AFP | Getty Images
Covid symptoms in connection with the new Omicron variant were described as “extremely mild” by the South African doctor who first sounded the alarm about the new variety.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC on Sunday that around November 18, she began seeing patients with “unusual symptoms” that were slightly different from those associated with the Delta variant which is the most virulent strain of the virus to date and dominant worldwide.
“It actually started with a male patient who is around 33 years old … and he said to me that he was just [been] Extremely tired the last few days and he has these body aches and a bit of a headache, “she told the BBC.
The patient has no sore throat, she said, but rather “scratches in the throat” but no cough or loss of taste or smell – symptoms that have been linked to previous strains of the coronavirus.
Coetzee said she tested the male patient for Covid and he was positive, as did his family, and then said she saw more patients that day who had the same symptoms that were different from the Delta variant.
This prompted her to raise the alarm at the South African Vaccination Advisory Committee, of which she is a member.
Other patients she had seen with the Omicron variant had also experienced “extremely mild” symptoms, and she added that her colleagues had noticed similar cases.
“What we see clinically in South Africa – and remember, I am at the epicenter of where I practice – is extremely mild for us.” [these are] mild cases. We didn’t take anyone in, I talked to other colleagues about myself and they give the same picture. “
Investigations are ongoing
The WHO has announced that it will take weeks to understand how the variant can affect diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
Coetzee’s initial observations are based on only a very small number of cases, and experts are concerned about the large number of mutations in Omicron. Preliminary evidence suggests that the strain has an increased risk of reinfection, according to the WHO.
Early data suggests that the variant is spreading faster in South Africa than previous variants and that the variant officially known as B.1.1.529 could trigger a new wave of infections, according to an analysis by the Financial Times.
It might take a while to fully understand what specific symptoms, if any, are attributable to the new Omicron variant on a larger scale.
Covid symptoms have changed since the virus first appeared in China in late 2019. The “Alpha” and “Delta” variants first discovered in the UK and India caused different symptoms, with the latter causing more headaches, for example. Sore throat, runny nose and fever.
The US CDC has highlighted the variety of Covid symptoms reported, stating that “anyone can have mild to severe symptoms,” which can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
The list of symptoms the CDC lists includes fever or chills, cough, tiredness, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle or body aches and pains, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, constipation or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
A number of countries have now temporarily banned travel from several southern African countries in which the variant was found, a move that the South African health minister described on Friday as “knee-jerk, draconian”.
When asked by BBC’s Andrew Marr whether countries like the US, UK, Israel and the EU were “panicking unnecessarily,” Coetzee stressed that the Omikron variant was likely to have already spread in these countries.
“I think you already have it in your country without even knowing it, so at this point I would definitely say. Two weeks later we may say something else, ”she added.
Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the WHO, told CNBC on Monday that “we have to thank South Africa” for sounding the alarm about the new variant, which has already been found in the UK, France, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy has been to Australia, Canada and Hong Kong, but not yet in the US
WHO’s Harris said the organization did not want to see travel restrictions but understood that countries need to take precautions based on their own epidemiological situation and a risk-based analysis of current data.
The UN health agency said on Monday that the Delta variant is still responsible for most of the current infections worldwide and, as such, is still their greatest concern.
“Over 99% of cases around the world are due to the Delta variant, and the unvaccinated population has more deaths,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Monday.
“I think this is our priority while we wait to find out more [the omicron] Variant.”