It was discovered today that the Omicron super-mutant variant outperformed Delta and has now become South Africa’s dominant strain. This is after infection rates soared 15% in a matter of weeks. 

A public health official based in Johannesburg revealed that the highly evolved virus was now behind 75 per cent of cases nationally just eight days after South Africa first raised the alarm about the strain on November 24.

Anne von Gottberg (clinical microbiologist, South Africa’s National Health Agency) said today that there was a predominance Omicron in the country. 

Because only a few positive samples have been tested for variants, there has only been one confirmed case of this strain. South Africa has an average of 8,561 cases per hour, up 170% from the 566 in 2005.

Hospitalisations increased more than twice in the past two weeks from an average of 85 per day to 184. Although the virus is thought to cause mild illnesses, it was first found in young people who were not normally hospitalized with the disease.

Omicron has been confirmed in five of nine U.S. provinces. Officials expect Omicron to increase in four other areas, where there have yet not been any sequences.  

Professor von Gottberg stated that scientists are concerned about Omicron cases being found in people who had previously been exposed to Covid. This is in contrast with the rate of reinfection during previous waves.

She said that although the virus is not more easily transmissible as Delta, it’s thought the severity of the disease and the need for vaccines to protect the patient should be.

It has been detected in 28 countries and spread for several weeks, before South Africa alerted. The Netherlands had detected the case a week before Nigeria, who found their first case from a October sample. 

Scientists found it in Britain even before its discovery. There were nine cases of the disease in Scotland last November 20th, leading to speculation that the strain may have been imported from the COP26 climate conference in Paris or a Murrayfield Stadium match against South Africa. 

Anne von Gottberg (clinical microbiologist, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases) said that it ‘looks like there’s a predominance Omicron in the country.

Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 8,561 people in South Africa tested positive in the last 24 hours — increasing six-fold in a week and nearly doubling on yesterday's number — equating to a positivity rate of 16.5 per cent. South Africa has recorded 2.9million cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Covid deaths have increased from 22 last Wednesday to 28 today, marking a 27 per cent rise. The vast majority of cases are concentrated in Gauteng, the epicentre of the outbreak, in the north east

Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows 8,561 people in South Africa tested positive in the last 24 hours — increasing six-fold in a week and nearly doubling on yesterday’s number — equating to a positivity rate of 16.5 per cent. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, South Africa has seen 2.9 million cases. Covid deaths in South Africa have risen by 27% from 22 Wednesday last week to 28 today. Gauteng is where the majority of the cases occur, and it’s the most affected area.

The graph shows the number of Covid-infected people hospitalised in South Africa each week. Last week, 1,027 people were admitted to public and private hospitals, equating to an average of 146 people per day. Some 552 people have been hospitalised with the virus in the first three days of this week, equating to 184 admissions per day, marking an increase of 26 per cent on last week

The graph below shows how many Covid-infected South Africaans are admitted each week. The average number of people admitted to South African hospitals per day was 146. Last week saw 1,027 people being admitted to both public and private hospitals. The virus has infected 552 people, leading to an average of 226 admissions per day.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the first person to spot the new variant in a patient, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and much milder symptoms, including tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But none reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties

Angelique Coetzee (chair of South African Medical Association) said Omicron-infected patients had different symptoms than hers. She reported a milder, more mild infection, such as tiredness and muscle aches. However, none of them reported symptoms such as a loss in smell, taste, or breathing problems. 

Prof. von Gottberg from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, (NICD) said that 183 of 249 South African cases have been sequenced by this super strain. 

Last Wednesday, 1,275 people tested positive in South Africa — marking a 3.6 per cent positivity rate.

UK may approve Covid vaccines in five- to eleven-year-olds by Xmas. 

The UK is poised to start administering Covid vaccines to primary school children as soon as Christmas amid fears of the looming Omicron wave.

Ministers have asked their independent vaccine advisers and chief scientists Sir Patrick Vallance  and Chris Whitty to consider the move.

George Freeman, a business minister, told Sky News today: ‘We’re looking at the science on that and the balance of the rollout.

“(Sir Patrick Vallance, our chief scientist) and (Professor Chris Whitty) are providing advice on this and that is what guides us. 

June Raine (the chief executive of Britain’s medicines regulator) stated that it was very likely that safety reviews would be finished by Christmas.

Even if the jab is approved by the MHRA, however, the plans still need to be signed off by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Covid presents a very small threat to young children, so the JCVI is resisting calls for them to be vaccinated. 

This number rose to 4,373 Tuesday with 10.2% of the people swabbed reporting positive results.

The upward trend continued yesterday, with 8,561 testing positive — increasing six-fold in a week and nearly doubling on Tuesday’s number — equating to a positivity rate of 16.5 per cent. 

Professor von Gottberg claimed that approximately 75% of the samples have been Omicron sequenced, however, there’s a slight lag due to how long it takes to gather and sequence positive results.

And the number of positive samples sequenced — when scientists examine a positive sample in a laboratory to determine what Covid strain caused an infection — in South Africa in November equate to less than one per cent of positive cases for the month.

Scientists discovered bias in Omicron sample 1 last month. This was because scientists examined positive Omicron cases that they believed were new variants and not random samples of the population.  

Professor von Gottberg commented that there was a strong predominance Omicron in the country. Omicron can be identified using sequencing in at least five of the provinces where sequencing data is available.

‘And we think the other provinces were just not identifying it yet, because we don’t have specimens that have been sequenced for those provinces.’

She also warned scientists about Omicron cases among those who had previously been positive for Covid.

South Africa has a testing database that matches positive PCR and antigen tests to people so it can count reinfections — which it defines as a positive test from an individual 90 days after they first test positive.

Professor von Gottberg said: ‘We monitored these reinfections for the Beta and for the Delta waves and we didn’t see an increase in reinfection over and above what we expect when the force of infection changes, when the wave stops. 

“However, Omicron is on the rise.” 

‘And that sort of speaks to that fact in our population with a high seroprevalence — so where many people have that previous infection — we believe that that previous infection does not provide them protection from infection due to Omicron. 

The UK and US are both recording much higher levels of infection than South Africa - the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak - but cases are rising sharply and are up 400 per cent in a week

While the US and UK are recording higher rates of Omicron infection than South Africa (the epicenter of the Omicron virus), cases in these countries are increasing rapidly and have risen by up to 400% over the past week.

South Africa's case numbers are likely to be an underestimate because the country is doing far fewer tests than the UK, but a comparable number to the US

South Africa’s cases are unlikely to understate because it is performing far fewer tests that the UK but comparable numbers to the US.

South Africans are less likely to have received 2 doses of Covid than the US, where nearly 60% and 70% respectively.

The above graph shows the seven-day average for the change in Covid cases week-on-week. It reveals that cases are now rising in every province of South Africa. It is not clear how many are linked to Omicron, but scientists there say the variant has already spread to every province of the country

This graph displays the week-on-week average seven-day change in Covid cases. This graph shows how cases have increased in each province of South Africa. Although it isn’t clear exactly how many Omicron cases there are, scientists say that Omicron has spread to every provincial in the country.

“However, we hope that they have protection against serious disease, hospitalizations, and even death.”

She said that the virus is not more contagious as Delta. 

Pfizer CEO says boosters are needed every year to ensure a high level of protection 

Britons might need a Covid booster every year to maintain ‘very high’ levels of protection against the, Pfizer’s boss said today after the UK ordered 114million more shots from his company and Moderna to vaccinate everyone until 2023.

Chief executive of the company that delivered the first Covid vaccine in the world a year ago, Dr Albert Bourla said the global economy will likely need jabs for many years to keep up with new versions and combat waning immunity.

Pfizer is expected to rake in £61billion in revenue for the vaccine this year, double its pre-pandemic takings. However, Dr Bourla said that the vaccine was not profiteering and claimed each one was sold for as little as a take-out meal to wealthy countries such as the UK.

The UK has ordered another 114million doses that can be tweaked to fight off variants — including 54million Pfizer jabs and 60million Moderna doses in a deal thought to be worth around £2.05billion 

Officials did not reveal how much the Pfizer jabs cost, but EU contracts show the bloc is spending about £16.50 per dose of Pfizer and £19.50 on Moderna’s. The jabs are expected to arrive by 2022 or 2023. There is already a plan in place for the enhancement of the nation’s immunity, at least for the next two years.  

George Freeman, British business minister said that Britain had purchased more vaccines in order to ensure there would be enough for future rollouts. He stated, “We need to protect our citizens and ensure the support of Covax’s global vaccine rollout.”  

She said: ‘People talk about increased transmissibility, but I think in this case, this virus might be as transmissible — its own characteristics, the virus characteristics — may be very similar or slightly less than Delta in shedding or being able to be contagious. 

‘However, it’s the susceptibility of the population that is greater now because previous infection used to protect against Delta and now with Omicron it doesn’t seem to be the case.

“We think vaccines will continue to protect against serious disease. We have observed a decrease in the protection of vaccines using other versions, but vaccines have always protected us from severe diseases and admissions into hospitals.

Omicron-related illness will not be as severe in vaccinated patients than it is for those with previous infection, according to Professor von Gottberg.

When asked about reports that Omicron-infected children are being admitted to hospital in South Africa, she said there are reports of youngsters being admitted, but they have an ‘uncomplicatedclinical course’ and are discharged within a few days.  

It comes after a spokesperson for the WHO, speaking anonymously to Reuters, yesterday said early data suggests the mutant strain is better at infecting people than Delta, even the fully vaccinated. 

However, there are no signs that current vaccines won’t be as effective at preventing death and hospitalizations. 

The WHO does not specify what evidence they are referring to. However, this comment is the first hint that Omicron may not be causing as much havoc in the world as previously thought. 

These comments were made after Botswana’s health ministry disclosed that it had identified 19 Omicron cases within the country, and 16 of those who had been tested had not shown any symptoms.

Acting director of Health at the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr Pamela Smith Lawrence said that most of the 19 people infected have tested negative. 

According to her, the unwell people had mild symptoms.

It is ‘unfair’ to treat Botswana as ground zero of the new variant, Dr Smith-Lawrence added. 

Yesterday, Nitzan Horowitz, Israeli Health Minister, said that there is a lot of optimism about this variant. He also stated that existing vaccines are capable of protecting against serious illness caused by the super-strain.

A report from an Israeli news channel claiming that Pfizer’s jab could prevent Omicron-related symptoms was published hours later. It is 90% effective, which is slightly lower than Delta. 

The Channel 12 news broadcast also claimed the super variant is just 30 per cent more infectious than Delta — much lower than initially feared.  

Comparatively, Delta is 70% more infective than Alpha, which it beat earlier this year.