Patients report tiredness, muscle aches, a ‘scratchy throat’ and cough.
A South African doctor who raised the alarm over the omicron variant of the coronavirus said yesterday dozens of her patients suspected of having the new variant had only shown mild symptoms and had recovered fully without hospitalisation.
Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said she had seen about 30 patients over the past 10 days who tested positive for Covid but had unfamiliar symptoms.
“What brought them to the surgery was this extreme tiredness,” she said, speaking from Pretoria where she practices.
She said this was unusual for younger patients.
Most were men aged under 40. Just under half were vaccinated.
They also had mild muscle aches, a “scratchy throat” and dry cough, she said. Only a few had a slightly high temperature.
These mild symptoms were different to other variants, which gave more severe symptoms.
Coetzee alerted health officials of a “clinical picture that doesn’t fit delta” – the country’s dominant variant – on 18 November, when she received the first seven patients.
She said scientists had already picked up on the variant, then just known as B.1.1.529, which they announced on Thursday.
The news sparked a panicked flurry of travel bans on southern Africa as countries raced to contain its spread – measures the government deems “rushed” and unjust.
Coetzee said it was unfortunate that omicron had been hyped as “this extremely dangerous virus variant” with multiple mutations while its virulence was still unknown.
The World Health Organisation has designated it a variant of concern, and scientists are working to assess its behaviour.
The highly-mutated variant is thought to be very contagious and resistant to immunity, although its ability to evade vaccines is still being assessed.
“We are not saying that there will not be severe disease coming forward,” Coetzee said.
But “for now, even the patients that we have seen who are not vaccinated have mild symptoms”.
“I’m quite sure … a lot of people in Europe already have this virus,” she said.
Official statistics show nearly three-quarters of the Covid cases reported in South Africa in recent days have been identified as omicron.
Since the country shared its discovery, a number of countries have detected omicron infections, including Australia, Italy, the UK and Belgium.
“We will see a rise in cases,” Coetzee warned.
South Africa’s daily Covid positivity rate has jumped from 3.6% on Wednesday, to 9.2% on Saturday. Numbers remain relatively low, with about 2.9 million cases and 89 791 deaths reported to date.