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South African medics urge the world not to panic over new Covid variant Omicron

Medics in South Africa yesterday urged the rest of the world not to panic about the Omicron variant.

While South Africa’s Covid cases have risen dramatically in the last week, hospitalisations and deaths have remained low.

Scientists said it could still take another two weeks to determine whether a surge of Covid infections first spotted in a group of students is being driven by the new strain.

Dr Angelique Coetzee (pictured), chairman of the South African Medical Association, first encountered the virus in a man in his early 30s 

There were 77 confirmed cases of Omicron in South Africa last night.

Most of those infected are unvaccinated and live in crowded townships, and most people appear to get better within two to three days, the country’s health chief said

South African scientists who reported the mutated virus to the world last Thursday admitted that up until a week ago the nation had a low transmission rate with just 887 new Covid cases and ten deaths.

In the seven days to Saturday, new cases nearly quadrupled, ballooning to 3,220, but with a lower death count of eight.

Some 82 per cent of new cases were recorded in the province of Gauteng, which includes the capital of Pretoria and Johannesburg, and the many surrounding townships where people live in close proximity and vaccination rates are low.

There are no recorded hospitalisations from Omicron and in the last 24 hours there have only been 30 new Covid patients admitted to all South African hospitals.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairman of the South African Medical Association, first encountered the virus in a man in his early 30s who presented with tiredness and a mild headache but none of the usual coronavirus symptoms.

The UK imposed new restrictions on arriving travellers following the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron

‘What we are seeing clinically in South Africa – and remember I’m at the epicentre – it’s extremely mild,’ she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

When asked if the UK was ‘panicking unnecessarily’ she said: ‘I would say yes, at this stage I would say definitely.

‘Two weeks from now maybe we will say something different.’ Dr Coetzee also revealed Omicron patients are ‘at home and they get better within two to three days after we’ve seen them’.

‘There’s no need to panic,’ she added.

Professor Barry Schoub, a Covid adviser to the South African government, said he was ‘optimistic’ about how the situation may develop.

Professor Salim Karim, an adviser on the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus, said: ‘At present we will not be in a position to say if the increase in new Covid cases is down to the mutation or if it is purely what we expected to happen as we head for a fourth wave.

‘Nobody can answer that for about two weeks, when the laboratories have done their job and reveal the results, and up until then we can only monitor the increase in cases.’

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government was warned by civil society leaders it could face a severe backlash from the people if it puts in yet another strong lockdown.

He was urged to make vaccinations mandatory as it believed only between a quarter and third of the nation has been jabbed.

The daily average rate of jabs slumped to below 100,000 in the last week, in a country with a population of 60.1million.