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A Quick Breakdown of the Best Omicron Data Yet

South Africa reported Friday that the fast-growing outbreak of the omicron variant, first identified in the country, has so far proved much milder than previous coronavirus waves.

SO WHAT

There’s still no reason to panic.

THE NUMBERS

During the second week of the omicron outbreak, the rate of hospitalization among identified cases was one-tenth of what South Africa saw at the same point in the delta variant’s rise, according to national data.

Even as the virus has spread faster than ever in the country, hospitals have also seen a fraction as many cases that are “severe” or that require oxygen Dec. 9-15, compared to June 17-24.

  • Excess deaths, or fatalities above the historical average, have stayed below 2,000 a week on average, one-eighth of the previous peak.
  • “We are really seeing very small increases in the number of deaths,” said Michelle Groome, the head of health surveillance for South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
  • Dr. Joe Phaahla, the health minister, said omicron’s “mildness” was probably due not just to characteristics of the virus, but also to increased vaccination and natural immunity.

Meanwhile, a semi-official analysis of viral particles in wastewater suggested South Africa’s omicron wave may have already peaked in the heavily populated area around the national capital, Pretoria.

COMING TO AMERICA?

The positive news out of South Africa belied recent messaging from the Biden administration.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday projected record hospital admissions in the coming weeks and a spike in deaths.
  • President Joe Biden warned Thursday that the omicron variant is “here now” and will mean “a winter of severe illness and death” for unvaccinated Americans.
  • “But there’s good news: If you’re vaccinated and you had your booster shot, you’re protected from severe illness and death,” Biden added.

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