Omicron variant: South Africa sees spike in child hospitalisations

December 03, 2021

Doctors stress it was early to know if children were particularly susceptible of the new COVID-19 variant

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Health workers at the screening and testing tents set up at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. PHOTO: AFP

JOHANNESBURG: The doctors in South Africa said that there had been a spike in hospitalisations among young children after the Omicron variant popped up in the country, but stressed it was early to know if the children were particularly susceptible.

In the week since South Africa alerted the world of the new COVID-19 variant, infections have spread faster than in the country's three previous waves.

The first cluster of cases centred around university students, and then spread quickly among young people who seem to have spread it to older people.

But scientists and health officials said they had seen increasing hospital admissions in children under five, along with higher positivity rates among children aged 10-14.

Wassila Jassat, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said: "We've seen quite a sharp increase across all age groups, particularly in the under fives," referring to hospitalisations.

"The incidence in those under fives is now second-highest, and second only to the incidence in those over 60," she told a news conference.

Scientists cited several possible reasons. One is that children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccines in South Africa. Doctors have reported anecdotally that both children and parents testing positive have not been vaccinated, she said.

NICD's head of public health Michelle Groome said the virus was spreading faster than at any point in the pandemic in Gauteng, the province where Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria are located.

"Preliminary data suggests Omicron is more transmissible and has some immune evasion," she said.

South African scientists on Thursday reported that the reinfections were three times as likely with Omicron, compared to the Delta or Beta strains.

Although generally patients are showing milder symptoms, Groome cautioned that the onset of serious illness would only be expected over the coming two weeks.

The country recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday, mostly in the epicentre Gauteng.

That is five times more than the reported cases just one week ago, when South African scientists alerted the world to the new variant.

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