South Africa has seen its Covid case numbers double every day. However, hospital admissions are still flat due to fears about an Omicron drive wave of infection.

According to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, (NICD), 8,561 Covid new cases have been recorded within the past 24 hours. This is a leap of 95.7 per cent in a single-day. Only 4,373 cases were reported yesterday.

The number of reported cases in this country has been on the rise since Omicron, a super-mutant Omicron strain emerged. It is believed to have more serious consequences than Delta.

A total of 51,977 individuals were examined in the country. 16.5 per cent had positive tests for the virus. Yesterday, 42,664 individuals took the Covid test and 16.5 per cent were positive. Only 3.6 percent of people tested positive last Wednesday.

In the meantime, Covid hospital admissions were flat while 28 deaths were reported.

These figures were released after officials from the health department suggested that this variant could be less serious than other strains.

Officials from the World Health Organization said that there was no evidence to suggest that this new vaccine variant affects effectiveness against severe illness. However, those who have been infected report mild symptoms. 

And health chiefs in Botswana — where Omicron is believed to have emerged — revealed that 16 out of 19 of its confirmed cases were asymptomatic and symptoms are ‘very, very mild’ among those who have them. 

Israeli officials also claimed that booster doses of Pfizer’s vaccine provide up to 90% protection from severe Omicron-related illness.

However, experts caution that they will need to wait at least two more weeks before getting a clearer picture of the possible impact.

Maria Van Kerkhove (an epidemiologist at WHO) said, however, that’surveillance biased’ might be underestimating Omicron’s severity, as young people are the primary spreaders. 

SAGE, No10’s scientific advisors warned Britain that there could be a ‘potentially extremely significant wave with associated hospitalsisations’ in the winter of 2019, if Omicron’s dire predictions are true. 

This map shows the pace of surging infections in the country. In Gauteng, the epicentre, they are rising week-on-week by more than 300 per cent alongside its neighbours the North West and Limpopo. Scientists say the variant is likely already in every province of the country, although it is unclear at present how many cases are linked to the strain

The map below shows how the nation is experiencing an increase in infections. The most prominent is Gauteng. They have increased week on week by more than 300%, along with their neighbours, North West, and Limpopo. Researchers believe the strain is already present in all provinces of the country. However, it’s not clear how many are affected.

Last Wednesday, 1,275 people tested positive in South Africa — marking a 3.6 per cent positivity rate — and the figure increased six-fold in a week, with 8,561 people testing positive, equating to 16.5 per cent of people who were were swabbed.

South Africa has had to deal with 2.9 million people since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalisations have increased by 26 percent in the past seven days. On average, 146 patients were admitted to hospital each day over the last week. In contrast, 184 Covid-infected individuals required care in hospitals during the first three days.

The number of Covid deaths has risen from 22 on Wednesday to 28 today. This is a 27% increase.

It comes as a spokesperson for the WHO, speaking anonymously to Reuters, said early data suggests the mutant strain is better at infecting people than Delta, even the fully vaccinated. They said that there are no indications that the existing vaccines won’t be as effective in preventing deaths and hospitalizations. 

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

Omicron is still a concern, but South Africa has far fewer Covid overall cases per person than either the UK or US. 

The Oxford University Research Platform Our World in Data shows that South Africa has 46 cases for every million inhabitants, compared with 628 in Britain and 246 in the US. Although cases are increasing rapidly in South Africa, they are still at an early stage.

So far, only 172 Omicron cases have been confirmed in South Africa and doctors there maintain that patients with the new variant are presenting with milder symptoms than previous strains — even though daily cases have soared 400 per cent in a week to 4,373 yesterday.

Botswana — the country where Omicron is believed to have emerged — today revealed that 16 out of 19 of its confirmed cases were asymptomatic.  

However, Covid hospitalisations in South Africa’s epicentre Gauteng are on the rise. This raises questions about the mildness of the variant.

The province recorded 580 hospitalisations this week, in a jump of 330 per cent from 135 hospital admissions two week ago, according to official Government data. 

But just a quarter of South Africans have had two Covid vaccine doses, which makes interpreting the data challenging. In the city of Tshwane in northern Gauteng, 87 per cent of hospital admissions this week were among the unvaccinated.

For comparison: 71% of UK citizens are double-jabbed, and as much as 80% in certain European countries.