A sign of what's to come for Britain?

A sign of what’s to come for Britain? South Africa’s Omicron wave has ‘subsided’ after striking up to HALF of nation as doctor says they’re now in a ‘good place’

  • The Omicron wave ‘is very much subsiding’ in South Africa, top doctor Professor Shabir Madhi said today
  • The country is in a ‘good place’ and has reached the pandemic ‘turning point’, the vaccine expert claimed
  • But up to half the country’s 58.8million population are thought to have caught the virus in latest wave, he said

South Africa’s Omicron wave has completely collapsed and the country has reached the ‘turning point in the pandemic’, a doctor on the frontline in Johannesburg claimed today amid growing hopes that Britain’s outbreak will also be short-lived.

Professor Shabir Madhi, a vaccine expert at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the variant was ‘very much subsiding’ and had already ‘pretty much subsided’ in Gauteng — the first province to fall victim to the extremely-infectious variant.

He estimated up to 50 per cent of the country’s 58.8million people caught Omicron since it first emerged, despite just 500,000 infections being recorded since the strain was first spotted on November 23.

While Covid infections soared to an ‘unprecedented’ level, Professor Madhi said there was a ‘complete uncoupling’ of hospitalisation and deaths. Figures show hospitalisations barely reached a third of rates seen in previous peaks, while fatalities stayed 10 times lower.

Professor Madhi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we are in a good place in South Africa and I think we’ve reached the turning point in this pandemic.’

It comes after another 8,078 cases were recorded in South Africa yesterday, a rise of 12 per cent in a week, after tumbling for 17 days in a row. Officially, daily cases peaked at nearly 27,000 on December 15.

Hospital admissions also rose 8 per cent with 309 reported, however they have also been trending downwards for the past fortnight. Deaths — the biggest lagging indicator — rose to 139, the highest since the Omicron wave took off. But they are still a far cry from the 600 per day at the peak of the Delta wave.

The shrinking wave comes despite only a quarter of South Africans being double-jabbed. There is growing hope that Britain’s variant-fuelled outbreak will follow a similar trajectory, where more than 70 per cent have had two jabs and half have had three.

In London — the UK’s Omicron epicentre — infections and hospitalisations appear to be flatlining already. There were 347 admissions in the capital on New Year’s Day, the latest day with data, down 7 per cent compared to the previous week. It is the second day in a row admissions have fallen week-on-week.

While daily infections nationally are running at record levels — 218,000 Britons tested positive yesterday — the number of Covid patients in hospital is still a fraction of previous peaks.

There are 15,000 Covid inpatients now compared to nearly 40,000 last January and about a third of current patients are not primarily sick with the virus. Fewer sufferers are also requiring ventilation.

Covid cases rose 12 per cent in South Africa yesterday but have been tumbling for 17 days in a row after appearing to peak at 26,976 on December 15

Professor Madhi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Across the country the wave is very much subsiding. 

‘Certainly, what was initially the epicentre Gauteng, the wave has pretty much subsided and what we’ve experienced is an unprecedented number of cases compared to what was experienced in the past. 

UK daily Covid cases hit record 218,000

Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a new record high of 218,000 yesterday, according to official figures released just moments before Boris Johnson held a 5pm Downing Street press conference.

The new infection number represents a 58 per cent rise compared to last week but includes several days of backlogged cases in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Hospitalisations also continued to rise yesterday with England recording 1,819 on January 1, the latest date with data, marking a 42 per cent rise on the previous week.  

But the statistics do not differentiate between patients that were admitted primarily for Covid and those who were admitted for a different illness and tested positive after admission. So-called ‘incidental’ admissions now make up about a third of all Covid inpatients, and fewer patients primarily sick with Covid are needing to be hooked up to ventilators. 

Despite the rising figures, the Prime Minister did not announce any further curbs at a press conference last night and instead encouraged more people to come forward for their booster jabs.

Ministers have taken confidence from the fact that hospital admissions already appear to be falling in Omicron hotspot London, which is two weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its outbreak. There were 347 admissions in the capital on New Year’s Day, down 7 per cent. 

‘But we’ve also seen a complete uncoupling of the hospitalisation and death rates. 

‘So the hospitalisation rate this time round is about one third relative to what was experienced during the course of the delta variant wave and the death rate is around about 10 per cent of what was experienced during the course of the Delta variant wave. 

‘So we’ve seen a complete uncoupling of infections and severe disease.’

But he said Omicron infections only plateaued and fell after up to half of the population became infected.

Professor Madhi said: ‘This time around it‘s probably been a greater proportion of the population that has been infected. 

‘South Africa does about one fourteenth of UK testing. So when we report about 25,000 cases per day you could probably multiply that by about 14. 

‘My estimate is it is about 40 to 50 per cent of people in South Africa possibly have been infected during the course of this particular wave.’

High levels of immunity among the population from previous Covid infections prevented further cases and drove down transmission, he said. 

But Professor Madhi warned South Africa’s experience with Omicron may not be replicated in the UK and other countries that do not have high levels of natural immunity. 

Around three-quarters of South Africans are thought to have been infected before Omicron emerged, but just 25 per cent have had a least one Covid jab.

Experts estimate less than half of people in the UK have had Covid, while 90 per cent of over-12s have had at least one jab.

He said: ‘The big question is whether immunity primarily through vaccination plays the same role against protecting against severe disease as does natural infection-derived immunity. And I believe it does.’

Professor Madhi said it is ‘certainly unpredictable as to what the next variant will look like’ but T-cell protection from infection and vaccination protects against severe disease and is ‘relatively well-preserved’. 

‘So I think we are in a good place in South Africa and I think we’ve reached the turning point in this pandemic,’ he added. 

It comes after Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a new record high of 218,000 yesterday.

The new infection number represents a 58 per cent rise compared to last week but includes several days of backlogged cases in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Data from South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows the number of daily confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began (blue bars) and the cumulative cases (orange line). Some 3.4million cases have been detected across South Africa since the pandemic began, more than half a million of which have been recorded since Omicron was first detected 

The NICD graph shows the number of infections recorded per province since March 2020. Gauteng (grey line), the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak, recorded the biggest spike in cases in the most recent Omicron wave

NICD data displays the number of positive Covid tests recorded per age group, showing that 20 to 39-year-olds (green line) and those aged 40 to 59 (light blue line), fuelled the most recent outbreak

Business chiefs beg Boris to cut Covid isolation to five days 

Business chiefs today begged Boris Johnson to cut self-isolation as around 1.3million people languish under house arrest and rail services and bin collections grind to a halt.

The PM is facing mounting pressure to trim the quarantine period again from seven days to five after he gathered his Cabinet ministers to sign off on sticking to ‘Plan B’ restrictions.  

The PM has up to now batted away calls for a change on self-isolation, voicing concern it could make the problems worse.

Staff absences are threatening to cripple the country after infections hit another record daily high of 218,000 – meaning nearly 1.3million people have been positive in the past week.

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain, warned that although it is coping so far the absentee chart is now ‘almost vertical’ – with levels more than double the peak of the ‘Pingdemic’ last year.

‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact,’ he told Sky News.

‘My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

‘Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also suggested he would support the move as long as it is science-led.

‘If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible,’ Mr Taylor said.   

Hospitalisations also continued to rise yesterday with England recording 1,819 on January 1, the latest date with data, marking a 42 per cent rise on the previous week.  

But the statistics do not differentiate between patients that were admitted primarily for Covid and those who were admitted for a different illness and tested positive after admission. So-called ‘incidental’ admissions now make up about a third of all Covid inpatients, and fewer patients primarily sick with Covid are needing to be hooked up to ventilators. 

Despite the rising figures, the Prime Minister did not announce any further curbs at a press conference last night and instead encouraged more people to come forward for their booster jabs. 

Ministers have taken confidence from the fact that hospital admissions already appear to be falling in Omicron hotspot London, which is two weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its outbreak. There were 347 admissions in the capital on New Year’s Day, down 7 per cent.

But sustained high daily cases across the UK – which have exceeded 100,000 for nearly two weeks – has left 1.3million people isolating at home.

Business chiefs today begged Mr Johnson to cut the self-isolation period from seven days to five days as rail services and bin collections ground to a halt.

Testing rules are set to be loosened in an effort to reduce the pressure on the system, with people who are positive on lateral flows spared having to do a confirmatory PCR.

Meanwhile, travel regulations are also due to be overhauled, axing the requirement for tests before arriving in the UK.

However, the PM has up to now batted away calls for a change on self-isolation, voicing concern it could make the problems worse.

Staff absences are threatening to cripple the country after infections hit another record daily high of 218,000 – meaning nearly 1.3million people have been positive in the past week.

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain, warned that although it is coping so far the absentee chart is now ‘almost vertical’ – with levels more than double the peak of the ‘Pingdemic’ last year.

‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact,’ he told Sky News.

‘My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

‘Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also suggested he would support the move as long as it is science-led.

‘If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible,’ Mr Taylor said.  

Source: Read Full Article