South Africa’s Omicron wave continued to surge today as daily Covid cases and hospital admissions more than doubled in a week.
Officials recorded 13,992 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, marking a 119 per cent rise on the figure last Monday and six times more than a fortnight ago.
With a test positivity rate of 31 per cent today, it suggests the outbreak in South Africa is growing faster than swabs can keep up.
The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said there were 422 new hospital admissions across the country in the last day, a rise of 141 per cent compared to last week.
It also revealed there has also been a sharp rise in Covid inpatient numbers since the weekend.
A total of 6,198 people are being treated for the virus now compared to the 5,562 who were in hospital on Sunday — the biggest single-day rise since the new variant took off.
Yet, despite the increasing case and hospital numbers, there were just 11 deaths attributed to Covid in the last 24 hours, up only marginally on last week.
Doctors in South Africa’s Omicron ground zero maintain that Omicron patients are coming in with milder illness and being discharged quicker.
Official figures suggest the number of Covid hospital patients with severe illness is a third of the level at the same point in the country’s Delta wave.
Scientists believe South Africa is benefitting from high levels of T cell immunity after recording high Covid infection rates in previous waves — with up to 80 per cent of the population already having had Covid.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of East Anglia in England, told MailOnline that there were ‘grounds for optimism’ for the UK, which has high levels of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.
With a test positivity rate of 31 per cent today, it suggests the outbreak in South Africa is growing faster than swabs can keep up
The majority of new cases today were in Gauteng province (48 per cent) which has been at the heart of the country’s Omicron outbreak. It was followed by KwaZulu-Natal (19 per cent), while Western Cape accounted for 10% and Free State and North West each accounted for 5 per cent
The NICD said that today’s case numbers may include several backlogged infections that were delayed due to an IT glitch over the weekend.
The agency said on Twitter: ‘We are working through the data, which is now flowing into the #COVID19 laboratory data stream.
‘And we would like to indicate that the reporting backlog may result in the inclusion of retrospective case data over the next few days in the daily #COVID19 surveillance reports.’
The majority of new cases today were in Gauteng province (48 per cent) which has been at the heart of the country’s Omicron outbreak.
It was followed by KwaZulu-Natal (19 per cent), while Western Cape accounted for 10% and Free State and North West each accounted for 5 per cent.
Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga both made up 4 per cent, Limpopo accounted for 2 per cent and Northern Cape accounted for just 1 per cent.
It came as the UK’s Omicron outbreak surged by 50 per cent in a day today after more than 1,500 Britons were diagnosed with the mutant virus and the first death was confirmed.
Officials confirmed another 1,576 cases of the highly-evolved variant over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 4,713 — however this is believed to be a vast underestimate with the true number several times greater because not all positive tests are analysed for variants.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the best estimate was that there are currently 200,000 overall daily infections across the country, with Omicron expected to become dominant in London by tomorrow and nationally within days.
Yet, the Department of Health’s daily update revealed that there were only 54,661 overall Covid cases in the past 24 hours, marking a rise of just 6 per cent week-on-week. No10’s scientific advisers have warned this could rise to an astronomical 1million per day by the end of the month if Omicron continues to spread at its current pace. The DOH also recorded another 926 daily hospital admissions, up 14 per cent in a week, and 38 deaths, down 7 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister today revealed that at least one patient has died from the Omicron variant as he warned it was now leading to hospitalisations, and that the ‘best thing’ people could do was get a booster.
The PM did not reveal the age of the person who died, or if they had underlying health conditions, which made them vulnerable or whether Omicron was the leading cause of their death or a secondary factor.
Mr Johnson warned against being complacent about Omicron, despite reports in South Africa that it is milder than Delta. The death in the UK is thought to be the first confirmed Omicron fatality in the world. However, given the variant makes up almost every case in South Africa it is likely that the vast majority of fatalities there are due to the mutant strain but a lack of testing means these are not picked up.
Two Covid jabs should still slash risk of dying from Omicron or being hospitalised by 84% even if they offer virtually zero protection against symptoms
Two Covid jabs should still slash the risk of dying from Omicron by up to 84 per cent but a booster is twice as good at preventing someone from falling ill, according to official estimates.
SAGE modelling published over the weekend worked off the assumption that two Pfizer doses give 83.7 per cent protection against hospitalisation and death from the highly-evolved strain.
A two-dose course of AstraZeneca’s vaccine was estimated to reduce the risk of severe disease from Omicron by 77.1 per cent. However, both vaccine brands were assumed to wane within three to six months.
At that point, the Government’s scientific advisers believe protection from two AstraZeneca jabs could be as low as 61.3 per cent and 67.6 per cent for Pfizer.
A booster dose of Pfizer’s vaccine was estimated to top-up immunity to over 93 per cent, regardless of which jab someone was originally given — providing a similar level of protection as two doses did against Delta.
These vaccine effectiveness estimates were presented in modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on Saturday and are based on lab studies looking at antibodies, rather than real-world data. It shows ‘vaccine effectiveness’ on symptomatic disease and hospitalisations/deaths from Omicron. The dots represent the number of people out of a group of 100 who are vulnerable to Covid. For example the study found boosters offered 93 per cent protection against hospitalisation and death. In a group of 100 booster vaccinated people, you would expect seven to require hospital care
The estimates were presented in modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on Saturday and are based on lab studies looking at antibodies. The model warned that the vaccine-resistant Omicron variant may lead to more hospitalisations than England’s second wave last January, when up to 4,000 infected patients were being admitted to NHS facilities every day.
Scientists have been racing to work out how effective existing vaccines will perform on the Omicron strain since it was first discovered on November 24. There was huge concern that it would be unrecognisable to jabs because of the 30-plus mutations on its spike protein.
Current jabs were designed to target the original virus that emerged in Wuhan. But because the variant is so new, experts are still relying on lab experiments which may not reflect how the variant will behave in the real world.
Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline he expects two jabs to protect against severe illness even better. He said hospital data in South Africa’s Omicron ground zero suggested T cells, which are more difficult to measure, were playing a crucial role in immunity.
However, Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, argued the drop in efficacy of two jabs was still ‘concerning’. He told MailOnline: ‘Nobody ever expected Omicron to wipe out vaccine efficacy it was just a drop that was expected — and that in itself can do enough damage.’
Even at 84 per cent protection from severe illness, that leaves 16 per cent vulnerable to being hospitalised or killed by Omicron. That’s up to three times as many as with Delta.