A prior COVID-19 infection may not offer protection against the Omicron variant as it did with the Delta variant.
Dr Anne Von Gottberg, a microbiologist from South Africa‘s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said at a news briefing organized by the World Health Organization on Thursday that the country is seeing an increase in breakthrough infections.
‘Previous infection used to protect against Delta, but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case,’ she said.
‘We monitored these reinfection for the Beta [variant] and for the Delta wave, and we didn’t see an increase in reinfections over and above what we expect when the force of infection changes, when the wave stops.
‘However we are seeing an increase for Omicron.’
Dr Anne Von Gottberg, a microbiologist from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said on Thursday (above) that a previous COVID-19 infection may not protect against the Omicron variant
It comes as COVID-19 cases in South Africa have risen dramatically from 500 per day two weeks ago to 11,535 per day on Thursday
Von Gottberg did not specify the rate of Omicron reinfections compared to the rate of Delta reinfections, just the rate was higher for the new variant.
But she did add that a past infection should still protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death from a new infection.
The Omicron variant was first identified by South African researchers last week and is believed to have originated in Botswana or in Europe.
It has 50 mutations, more than 30 of which are on the spike protein, used by the coronavirus to enter and infect cells.
By comparison, the Delta variant – still the predominant variant in the U.S. – has seven mutations on the spike protein.
A new study found it is 2.4 times more infectious than previous variants but it is unclear if it causes more severe illness or death.
Nearly 400 cases have been detected in 32 countries, including the U.S., the UK and Canada.
In South Africa, cases have risen dramatically from 500 per day two weeks ago to 11,535 per day on Thursday.
Additionally, the percentage of tests coming back positive rose from 16.5 percent on Wednesday to 22.5 percent.
Hospitalizations have also risen it with 1,172 South Africans admitted to public and private hospitals compared to 1,250 people hospitalized in the first four days of this week alone.
Von Gottberg said the rate of reinfection linked to the Omicron variant is higher than that linked to the Delta variant. Pictured: A throat swab is taken from a patient to test for COVID-19 at a facility in Soweto, South Africa, December 2
The percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive rose from 16.5% on Wednesday to 22.5% on Thursday as cases increase among every province
Last week, 1,172 South Africans were admitted to public and private hospitals compared to 1,250 people hospitalized with the virus in the first four days of this week alone
‘We believe that the numbers of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces throughout the country,’ Von Gottberg said
‘In all of our provinces, we are seeing an increase in the percentage testing positive of all SARS-CoV-2 tests being done, and we think that the number of cases is going to increase in these provinces.’
A small handful of positive samples are currently being genetically sequenced.
However, Von Gottberg said that of 249 samples that underwent genetic sequencing in November, 183 samples – nearly 75 percent – were linked to the Omicron variant,
‘It does look like there was a predominance of Omicron throughout the country,’ she said.
‘And Omicron has been identified through sequencing in at least five of our provinces [that are] sequencing data.’
The largest Omicron variant outbreak in the world so far has been linked to a Christmas party held last month.
More than 100 employees of Scatec – renewable energy systems company – traveled from Norway to Cape Town, South Africa, for a Christmas event.
Upon return, between 50 and 60 of them tested positive for Covid, with at least one being a confirmed case of the Omicron variant.
It is feared that most, if not all, of the cases will revealed to be linked to the variant once they undergo genetic sequencing.
All attendees of the Cape Town trip were fully vaccinated, according to Scatec, and none of the infected have suffered a serious illness so far.