South Africa Reports Omicron Peak Has Passed

The country says one city hospital’s data shows a decrease in severity and mortality during this latest variant's outbreak.


Officials in South Africa are reporting the country may have passed its peak for COVID-19. The country’s department of health reported a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases detected in the week ending December 25, 2021 (89,781), compared to the number of new cases detected in the previous week (127,753).

And as such, the country's officials have reduced or lifted restrictions, which include:

  • The curfew will be lifted. There will therefore be no restrictions on the hours of movement of people.

  • Gatherings are restricted to no more than 1000 people indoors and no more than 2000 people outdoors. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used. All other restrictions remain in place.

  • Alcohol establishments that have licenses to operate beyond 11pm will revert back to full license conditions.

The South African government statement also went on to say the following: “The risk of increase in infections is still high given the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant. Government therefore calls on all organizers of these gatherings to ensure that all health protocols are observed at all times and that all attendees are encouraged to be vaccinated.”

A Perspective From a South African City Hospital

The Omicron variant was first documented in South Africa in the city of Tshwane in early November. Investigators there decided to compare clinical profiles of inpatients at a Tshwane hospital with patients from previous waves. The results were published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Since November 14, 2021, the hospital admitted 466 COVID-19 inpatients compared to 3976 prior admissions since May 4, 2020. Ninety-eight patient records at peak bed occupancy during the outbreak were reviewed for primary indication for admission, clinical severity, oxygen supplementation level, vaccination and prior COVID-19 infection.

“In our snapshot analysis of all patients in COVID wards at peak bed occupancy during the Omicron Wave (n=98) 55% were on room air, 37% were confirmed COVID pneumonia of which 72% required no or low flow supplemental oxygen and the remaining 38% needed high care or ICU admission,” Dr. Fareed Abdullah, the director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis Research at the South African Medical Research Council, and lead author of the paper tweeted on January 1.

The mortality rate was 4.5% (Omicron wave) vs 21.3% (previous waves), and ICU admissions 1% (Omicron wave) vs 4.3% (previous waves). The length of stay was 4.0 days vs 8.8 days; and mean age was 39 years vs 49 years for the Omicron and previous waves respectively.

“When we compared 466 admissions during the Omicron outbreak to 3976 admissions in previous waves deaths, ICU admissions and length of hospital stay were all significantly lower,” Abdullah, tweeted on December 30.

In addition, hospital admissions peaked and declined rapidly with peak bed occupancy at 51% of highest previous peak the authors reported.