Two weeks after the Omicron variant was identified, hospitals are bracing for a covid-19 tsunami. In South Africa, where it has displaced Delta, cases are rising faster than in earlier waves. Each person with Omicron may infect 3-3.5 others. Delta’s most recent rate in the country was 0.8.
Where it stands: The U.S. is now averaging roughly 120,000 new COVID cases per day, a 26% increase over the past two weeks.
Average cases briefly dipped below 100,000 as the summer’s Delta wave receded, but the virus has rebounded quickly. New infections were climbing even before Thanksgiving, and holiday travel likely is accelerating the virus’ spread even further.
Deathsare also on the rise, after tapering off in the fall.
The virus is now killing about 1,300 Americans per day, on average. That’s a 14% increase over the past two weeks.
At this rate, the U.S. will pass 800,000 total deaths — roughly equivalent to the population of the Charleston, South Carolina, metro area — before Christmas.
South African excess deaths, a measure of mortality above a historical average, almost doubled in the week ending Nov. 28 from the preceding seven-day period as a new coronavirus variant spread across the country.
During the period 2,076 more people died than would normally be expected, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. That compares with 1,091 the week earlier.
The rise, while only reflecting a week of data, contrasts with hospitalization numbers that show that most admissions have mild forms of the coronavirus, spurring hope that the omicron variant is more benign than earlier strains.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus can partially evade the protection from two doses of Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and partner BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, the research head of a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa said on Tuesday.
Still, the study showed that blood from people who had received two doses of the vaccine and had a prior infection were mostly able to neutralize the variant, suggesting that booster doses of the vaccine could help to fend off infection.
Days after a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 was identified in southern Africa, countries around the world are confirming that they have found cases of it too. The new strain of the virus, B.1.1.529, was first detected in genetic samples from Botswana and South Africa. (Nearly 150 cases have been confirmed in southern Africa since, although the true number is thought to be higher.) On November 24th South Africa’s health authorities told the World Health Organisation, which quickly labelled it a “variant of concern” and assigned it the Greek letter Omicron. Just how long—and where—it has been circulating is not yet clear.