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Omicron's high transmissibility means it will ’become dominant within weeks’

File photo: However, Mahamud also sounded a note of caution, calling South Africa an ’outlier’ since it has a young population among other factors. Picture: AFP

File photo: However, Mahamud also sounded a note of caution, calling South Africa an ’outlier’ since it has a young population among other factors. Picture: AFP

Published Jan 4, 2022

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GENEVA - More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant is affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants, a World Health Organization official said on Tuesday.

"We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike the other ones, that could cause severe pneumonia," WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told Geneva-based journalists, saying it could be "good news".

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However, he added that Omicron's high transmissibility means it will become dominant within weeks in many places, posing a threat in countries where a high portion of the population remains unvaccinated.

His remarks on the reduced risks of severe disease chime with other data including a study from South Africa which was one of the first countries where Omicron was detected.

However, Mahamud also sounded a note of caution, calling South Africa an "outlier" since it has a young population among other factors.

Asked about whether an Omicron-specific vaccine was needed, Mahamud said it was too early to say but stressed that the decision required global coordination and should not be left to the commercial sector to decide alone.

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Earlier this week, Division of Medical Virology and Groote Schuur Complex of the National Health Laboratory Service Dr Marvin Hsiao said, “Covid-19 cases in South Africa are declining overall as we have passed the peak.

“However, the reduced testing over the last week and the gathering over the festive season can still have an impact on the epidemic trajectory. If there is a resurgence of infections from New Year celebrations we would expect to see an increase in cases in the next 10 days and hospitalisations in the week after.”

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