Omicron Variant Causes Unusual but Mild Symptoms: South African Medical Association Head

November 27, 2021 Updated: November 30, 2021

The newest COVID-19 variant of concern causes unusual symptoms, but those symptoms so far have been mild, a top South African doctor says.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee practices in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, one of the countries where the Omicron CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variant was first detected earlier this month.

Coetzee recalled seeing a variety of patients enter with symptoms not associated with other CCP virus strains, including a high pulse rate.

“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” she told The Telegraph.

Most of the patients who visited her clinic and tested positive for COVID-19 felt tired. Other symptoms included sore muscles and a slight cough, Coetzee told Sputnik.

“There are no prominent symptoms. Of those infected, some are currently being treated at home,” she said.

The most common symptoms of earlier variants include fever, dry cough, and loss of taste or smell, although some patients also suffered from fatigue. A small subset of the infected have required hospital care for their symptoms, and deaths have mostly been among the elderly and people with serious underlying health conditions such as obesity and kidney disease.

People with the Omicron variant also were identified in Botswana and later detected in other areas, including Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

Many nations have barred or restricted travel from Southern Africa over the variant, citing concerns that it’s more transmissible.

Meanwhile, top South African scientists told reporters on Nov. 26 that little is known yet about Omicron. Scientists are trying to gather more information about its transmissibility, whether it can evade immunity bestowed by vaccines or COVID-19 recovery, and whether it causes severe disease at a higher rate than other strains.

“Information on the virus is still evolving and no major conclusions can be drawn as yet,” Dr. Christopher Nyanga, Botswana’s health secretary, said in a statement dated Nov. 26.

Epoch Times Photo
A health care worker prepares to conduct a COVID-19 test on a traveler at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 27, 2021. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

Coetzee told The Guardian that experts weighing in on how the variant may affect people were engaging in speculation.

“It may be it’s highly transmissible, but so far, the cases we are seeing are extremely mild,” she said. “Maybe two weeks from now, I will have a different opinion, but this is what we are seeing. So are we seriously worried? No. We are concerned and we watch what’s happening. But for now, we’re saying, ‘OK: there’s a whole hype out there. [We’re] not sure why.'”

The U.S. ban on travelers from Southern Africa was driven by a desire to better understand Omicron, health official Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a television appearance on Nov. 27.

“We want to give us some time to really fill in the blanks of what we don’t know right now,” he said.

South Africa on Nov. 27 reported 3,220 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, an increase of 9.2 percent from the prior day. Still, the average daily cases are down considerably from the summer, when it peaked at around 11,500.

Just 30 new hospital admissions with COVID-19 were reported in the past 24 hours, but another African expert warned that Omicron could lead to health care systems being overburdened.

“I’m worried that as the numbers go up that public health institutions are going to be overwhelmed,” Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told a recent briefing.

Mathivha said the hospital is seeing different patients than earlier in the pandemic, including more younger people.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.