In these hours, a sentence pronounced by Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Physicians Association, is widely shared, according to which the new variant would cause a mild disease, without important symptoms: but it has been extrapolated from the context, and read in this way risks being very misleading.
In the past few hours, a sentence pronounced by Angelique Coetzee, president of the Medical Association of South Africa, the country that first isolated the new Omicron variant.
The sentence was reported for the first time by Sputnik, the Russian news agency and web platform (born from the international agency Ria Novosti) present online with a website in several languages (including Italian), and the following: (The Omicron variant ) causes mild illness, with symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue – a day or two malaise. So far, we have noticed that those who are infected do not suffer from the loss of taste or smell. They may have a light cough. There are no relevant symptoms. Some infected are treated at home.
Similar phrases were then said by Coetzee also to more authoritative sources: from Telegraph (The symptoms of the infected (from Omicron) were so different, and so slight, compared to those I had treated up to that point) at Bbc (Patients mostly complain of muscle aches and extreme fatigue, and we see these symptoms mostly in the younger generation, not the elderly. We are not talking about patients who could go straight to hospital for hospitalization.)
The point, however, that these sentences – taken out of the general context in which they were pronounced – run the risk of being misleading, and of leading us to think that there is no cause for alarm, despite the highest world authorities (starting from the Organization World Health Organization) have indicated the variant as extremely worrying and potentially capable of weakening vaccination coverage, also due to the mutations (32) identified on the spike protein, the one that allows the virus to attack the body (and on which vaccines act).
Dr. Coetzee, who as anticipated leads the South African Medical Association, a general practitioner from Pretoria, with extensive experience (33 years, according to the Telegraph). He began imagining that he was faced with a new variant when, in his study, patients who were positive for coronavirus, but with unusual symptoms, started showing up.
It involved, he said, more than 20 patients, mostly men, in good health, who presented with extreme fatigue. Only half of them were vaccinated. Among the patients, the doctor also mentions a girl of about six, who arrived with a very fast heartbeat and fever. Two days later he was much better. Her patients, Coetzee said, were all in good health anyway: but – this is the point that the opening sentence completely fails to grasp – the doctor did not say it at all to diminish the alert.
What we need to worry about now is what can happen when older, or unvaccinated, people are infected with the new variant. If they are not vaccinated, we will see many people with severe forms of Covid.
In short, Coetzee said that in young, healthy and largely vaccinated patients – such as those who went to her – the symptoms triggered by the new variant in infected subjects were not particularly serious; and that the problem could present itself in a very different form with increasing age, especially in unvaccinated patients: a finding not only in line with all the data relating to Covid available to us, but also lacking – in its first part – of no general claims.
The demographic characteristics of South Africa – where about 40 per cent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the PA: and among young people the lowest percentage – are completely incomparable to European countries: only 6 per cent of South Africans is over 65 years old (in Italy the percentage is over 22 percent), and this justifies Coetzee’s statement that it will take time to verify the danger of the variant in patients with a higher age (statistically so little present in his country ).
It is no coincidence that the statements made by other authorities in South Africa have spoken of a situation that is of great concern (Andrea Scali, project leader of Doctors Without Borders in the KwaZulu-Natal district) given that the health system is already under pressure throughout the country.
We are seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients affected by Covid, Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, told the Associated Press. Young people in their 20s and 40s arrive with moderate to severe symptoms, and some require intensive care. Sixty-five percent of them are unvaccinated, and most of the remaining 35 percent are given only one dose. I’m worried that if the numbers continue to rise, the departments will be overwhelmed.
Coetzee – as well as the government of his country – strongly criticized the decision taken by several countries (including the EU, the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada) which closed the borders to South Africans: according to the government (and the doctor) of an undeserved punishment that sounds like a hoax, given that South Africa is guilty of quickly sequencing a new variant and sharing its characteristics with the rest of the world.
November 28, 2021 (change November 28, 2021 | 13:27)
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