Simon Cook Simon Cook

Is Omicron now falling in South Africa?

Man makes Covid predictions and God laughs. Yet with the stakes this high in Britain, every bit of real-world data is useful. That’s why South Africa is so important: it’s a country with a well-digitised healthcare sector that we have to thank for sequencing the Omicron variant, and has been first to experience the impact. That’s why its figures, released daily, are being watched so eagerly world over. Right now, there are two questions: is Omicron now falling? And if so, what conclusions can we draw?

The epicentre is Gauteng province: home to Johannesburg, Pretoria and about a quarter of South Africans. The below chart adjusts for population and shows that Omicron seems to have peaked in Gauteng last week — with the same trend visible in the other big provinces.

The caveat is that in South Africa, as with the UK, the latest data can be revised upwards. But it has been quite a few days now with figures below that of the peak in Gauteng. In another few days, we’ll be better able to say if this is true for Western Cape (home of Cape Town) and KwaZulu-Natal (home of Durban).

The data suggests that the likelihood of patients dying from Omicron itself is less than half that of Delta — and in most cases, much less

Now let’s zoom out to put Omicron in perspective: it has brought overall cases beyond its July peak. So there, as here, it sends cases through the roof.

But how does this translate into hospital care? We need to bear in mind the time lag between infection, severe illness and death. In previous waves, the average time for a Covid death has been four weeks after infection and hospitalisation is ten days. So even if Omicron cases have peaked, the below graph might go up before it goes down. But interestingly, there are signs of an early fall in hospital admissions.

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