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South Africa could see 10,000 daily Covid cases this week: Expert

JOHANNESBURG The newly discovered Omicron variant is likely to fuel a surge in South Africa's coronavirus cases that could see daily infections treble this week, a top epidemiologist warned yesterday.

Health monitors reported over 2,800 new infections on Sunday, up from a daily average of 500 in the previous week and 275 the week before.

"We can expect that higher transmissibility is likely and so we are going to get more cases quickly," Dr Salim Abdool Karim said at an online Health Ministry press briefing.

"I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases a day by the end of the week (and) see pressure on hospitals within the next two, three weeks."

South African scientists announced the new highly mutated variant last Thursday, blaming it for a sudden rise in infections in Africa's worst-hit nation.

Hospital admissions more than doubled over the past month in Gauteng, South Africa's most populous province and the epicentre of the new outbreak, according to official figures.

The province has entered a fourth infection wave that is expected to spread to the rest of the country by the end of the year, health officials said.

South Africa has recorded 2.9 million cases and 89,797 deaths, although these figures, proportionate to its population, are still significantly lower than other heavily affected countries, especially in Europe.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said there was "absolutely no need to panic".

"We have been here before," he said, referring to the Beta variant identified in South Africa last December.

The severity of the disease Omicron causes has not yet been determined, although symptoms observed so far in South Africa have been relatively mild.

"Even if Omicron is not clinically worse, and certainly the anecdotes don't raise any red flags just yet... we are going to see (rising cases) in all likelihood because of the rapidity of transmission," Dr Karim said.

He also said existing Covid-19 vaccines are probably effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the new variant.

However, it did appear more transmissible and more likely to infect people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection. - AFP, REUTERS

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