By Dylan Housman
South African authorities say their Omicron wave has come and gone without a major spike in deaths from COVID-19.
The wave of cases took about four weeks to peak, the South African Medical Research Council said, and two more weeks to subside. Deaths only increased at a fractional rate of cases and didn’t approach surges from previous waves of the virus, according to data from The New York Times.
Cases began to spike in mid-November, skyrocketing from about 270 per day to a peak of 23,437 per day — an increase of more than 8,000%. Deaths increased too in the same time period, from about 14 per day to a peak of 67 per day — an increase of just under 400%.
South Africa reports that despite a huge surge in cases #Omicron did not produce a spike in deaths.
"It was a flash flood more than a wave," said @fareedabdullah0, director of the office of HIV & TB research at the South African Medical Research Council.https://t.co/bG7EJzLQGn
— Helen Branswell (@HelenBranswell) December 30, 2021
That peak of 67 deaths per day at the height of the wave pales in comparison to the first three waves of widespread COVID-19 infections in the country. During the first wave in summer of 2020, deaths peaked at 297 per day. During the winter 2020-2021 wave, deaths peaked at 578 per day, and during the Delta wave they peaked at 420 per day.
“The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering,” said the South African Medical Research Council’s Fareed Abdullah. “Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two. This Omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave.”
Officials described the death increase near the end of the wave as “marginal,” according to the NYT. (RELATED: Fauci Admits Many Children Hospitalized With COVID-19 Aren’t There Because Of The Virus)
Unlike the United States, South Africa has a relatively low vaccination rate — only about 28 million doses have been administered, enough to vaccinate just under one-quarter of the population, according to Reuters.
By contrast, 62% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to The Washington Post.
The South Africa data is further evidence that the Omicron variant is less likely to cause severe disease than prior strains of COVID-19. A number of studies have found that the variant is significantly less severe, and leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths than the Delta, Alpha and Beta strains.