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Biden to Give 'Stark Warning' About Omicron, Yet Hospital Rates Plunge in South Africa with Variant Wave

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

A Saturday announcement indicated that President Joe Biden looks to be about to give a rather grim speech on Tuesday to do with the COVID-19, specifically the rise in the omicron variant. 


NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell and Minyvonne Burke were first to report on the upcoming speech and noted that a White House official shared the president is expected to go beyond what "winter plan" measures he's already put in place while "issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated."

As it applies to omicron, O'Donnell and Burke wrote that "Aides say [Biden] has told his team the message to the American public must be direct because of concerns that omicron's the more transmissible variant is expected to spread quickly, putting unvaccinated people at a higher risk while also posing a threat to those who have some level of inoculation."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also tweeted about the upcoming speech.


The amount of fear mongering may be premature, though. This is especially when it comes to how the variant has been tracked in South Africa, where it was first announced late last month. On November 26 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared omicron a "variant of concern."

From the start, health officials in South Africa have referred to cases and symptoms as "mild." And, as I highlighted earlier this month, most of the hospital cases in the Tshwane region were "incidental COVID admissions," in that the patients were admitted for other reasons. This is according to a report from the South African Medical Research Council to do with "Tshwane District Omicron Variant Patient Profile - Early Features."

Speaking of hospital cases, and bringing it to more recent news coverage, Antony Sguazzin reported for Bloomberg on Friday that "South Africa Hospitalization Rate Plunges in Omicron Wave."

From his coverage, with emphasis being mine:

Only 1.7% of identified Covid-19 cases were admitted to hospital in the second week of infections in the fourth wave, compared with 19% in the same week of the third delta-driven wave, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a press conference. 

Health officials presented evidence that the strain may be milder, and that infections may already be peaking in the country’s most populous province, Gauteng.

Still, new cases in that week of the current wave were more than 20,000 a day, compared with 4,400 in the same week of the third wave. That’s further evidence of omicron’s rapid transmissibility, which a number of other countries, such as the U.K., are also now experiencing.


“We are really seeing very small increases in the number of deaths,” said Michelle Groome, head of health surveillance for the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. 

More than 90% of hospital deaths were among the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, News24 reported, citing Waasila Jassat, a researcher with the NICD.


The number of Covid-19 hospitalizations in this wave is also being inflated by the fact that milder patients are being admitted because there is room to accommodate them. Many are there for other complaints but are routinely tested, according to health officials.


It's worthwhile to emphasize that while some may be concerned about the "rapid transmissibility" we already knew that this was the case. And, again, it still carries with it "mild" symptoms.

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