Member of the medical staff work in the hallways of the Intensive Care Unit where Covid-19 patients are hospitalised at the Etterbeek-Ixelles Hospital on April 6, 2021, in Brussels.
JOHN THYS | AFP | Getty Images
Covid symptoms linked to the new omicron variant have been described as “extremely mild” by the South African doctor who first raised the alarm over the new strain.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC on Sunday that she started to see patients around Nov.18 presenting with “unusual symptoms” that differed slightly to those associated with the delta variant, which is the most virulent strain of the virus to date and globally dominant.
“It actually started with a male patient who’s around the age of 33 … and he said to me that he’s just [been] extremely tired for the past few days and he’s got these body aches and pains with a bit of a headache,” she told the BBC.
The patient didn’t have a sore throat, she said, but more of a “scratchy throat” but no cough or loss of taste or smell — symptoms that have been associated with previous strains of the coronavirus.
Coetzee said she tested the male patient for Covid, and he was positive, as was his family, and then said she saw more patients that day presenting with the same kinds of symptoms that differed from the delta variant.
This prompted her to raise the alarm with South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee, of which she is a member.
Other patients she had seen so far with the omicron variant had also experienced what she described as “extremely mild” symptoms, and she added that her colleagues had noted similar cases.
“What we are seeing clinically in South Africa — and remember I’m at the epicenter of this where I’m practicing — is extremely mild, for us [these are] mild cases. We haven’t admitted anyone, I’ve spoken to other colleagues of mine and they give the same picture.”
Early data suggests the variant is spreading in South Africa more rapidly than previous variants did and that the variant, known formally as B.1.1.529, could be starting to trigger a new wave of infections,.
It could take a while to fully understand what specific symptoms, if any, are attributable to the new omicron variant on a wider scale.
Covid symptoms have changed since the virus first emerged in China in late 2019, according to experts tracking the disease. The “alpha” and “delta” variants, first discovered in the U.K. and India, were seen to cause different symptoms, for example,
, noting that “anyone can have mild to severe symptoms” that may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.
The list of symptoms the CDC lists includes fever or chills, a cough, fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or a runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.
in the , France, Israel, , , , Italy, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong, but not yet in the U.S.
The WHO’s Harris said the organization didn’t like to see travel restrictions but understood that countries needed to take precautions based on their own epidemiological situations and risk-based analysis of the current data.
The U.N. health agency said on Monday that the delta variant is still responsible for most of the current infections globally and, as such, was still its biggest concern.
“Over 99% of cases around the world are due to the delta variant and more deaths are occurring in the unvaccinated,” WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan told CNBC’s “” on Monday.
“I think that’s our priority while we wait to find out more about [the omicron] variant.”