As chair of the South African Medical Association and a GP of 33 years’ standing, I have seen a lot over my medical career.

However, nothing prepared me for this extraordinary worldwide reaction to my news that I had just seen a young male in my clinic with a Covid case that was the Omicron variety.

The virus was previously detected in Botswana, and has been in circulation in south Africa since then.

My public-facing job meant that I accidentally brought the issue to international attention by making it known in my own patient.

Quite simply, I have been stunned at the response – and especially from Britain.

Let me make it clear, nothing that I’ve seen regarding this variant justifies the drastic response taken by the UK government.

There is no evidence that anyone from South Africa was hospitalized with Omicron or is believed to have become seriously ill.

Nothing has prepared me for the extraordinary global reaction that met my announcement this week that I had seen a young man in my surgery who had a case of Covid that turned out to be the Omicron variant

For the unexpected global response to the news this week about my seeing a young man at my surgery with a Covid case that was the Omicron variety of Covid, nothing has prepared me.

However, Britain and the other European countries have taken strong measures to restrict travel from southern Africa. They also imposed stricter restrictions at home regarding mask-wearing and fines.

The simple truth is: we don’t know yet anywhere near enough about Omicron to make such judgments or to impose such policies.

The British government reaction to the Omicron variant has including an expansion of the booster jab roll-out to all adults

British officials reacted to Omicron’s variant by expanding the availability of booster jabs to adults.

In South Africa, we’ve retained a sense of perspective. We’ve had no new regulations or talk of lockdowns because we’re waiting to see what the variant actually means.

We’ve also become accustomed here to new Covid variants emerging. When our scientists found yet another Covid variant, no one made much of it. Many people didn’t even notice.

The global picture began to change after Britain was made aware of it.

Even as our scientists tried to point out the huge gaps in the world’s knowledge about this variant, European nations immediately and unilaterally banned travel from this part of the world.

Our government was understandably angered by this, pointing out that ‘Excellent science should be applauded, not punished.’

Omicron could be an effective step in the fight against herd immunity if, as evidence shows, it is a rapid-spreading virus that causes mild symptoms in most people.

After Britain heard about it, the global picture started to change.

It was first reported by Britain. Then, things began to look different around the world.

We’ll learn in the next two weeks if that’s the case.

The worst situation – of course – would be a fast-spreading virus with severe infections. But that’s not where we are at the moment.

Here in South Africa, what I and my GP colleagues are seeing doesn’t in any way warrant the knee-jerk reaction we’ve seen from the UK.

For one thing, we’re not – at least for now – treating patients who are severely ill.

Let’s take my Omicron first case. The young man that I spoke of earlier. It didn’t occur to him that he had Covid: he thought he’d had too much sun after working outside. His wife and his four-month old baby also tested positive after he was confirmed.

So far, the patients who’ve tested positive for Omicron here have been mainly young men – a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated (though, in our statistics, ‘unvaccinated’ can also mean ‘single-vaccinated’).

Yesterday, five additional patients tested positive for this variant. Each of the patients had only mild symptoms.

So, at the moment, I’m afraid it seems to me that Britain is merely hyping up the alarm about this variant unnecessarily.

The picture may change one day. For example, I have not yet seen older people unvaccinated with this new variant. They might be more severely affected.

The reality is, Covid is something that we must learn to accept. Take care of yourself, and make sure you get the vaccines. Above all, don’t panic – and that goes for governments as well. 

Chair of the South African Medical Association, Dr Coetzee first alerted everyone to Omicron Covid last week.