A GP at the heart of South Africa’s Omicron outbreak has some advice for Kiwis: Understand the variant’s symptoms, wear a mask, and get tested if symptomatic.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, treated South Africa and the world's first Omicron case, effectively alerting health authorities around the globe to the variant.
At the end of November 2021, a man in his 30s had gone to see Coetzee in her Pretoria office. He had aches and a severe headache.
By that stage eight weeks had passed without any kind of influx of Covid-19 patients, she told Breakfast. A fourth wave of the virus was not expected until the end of December.
To rule out Covid-19 she ordered a PCT test. It came back positive. However, laboratories found the virus' S-gene could not be detected as it had mutated.
"Oh God what now?" she recalled thinking to Breakfast after the result.
Now Omicron is in at least 155 nations, according to The New York Times.
It is also now the most dominant variant in New Zealand.
Coetzee has pleaded with Kiwis to understand the differences between Delta and Omicron.
She said with Delta loss of taste and smell is seen, people will have a cough and generally "won't feel well". People could also have a fast pulse rate and trouble breathing.
Coetzee explained to Breakfast Omicron is a "muscular-skeletal complaint". She said it typically presents with a low back ache and severe tiredness.
Those infected can also present with a backache, body aches and pains, intercostal/chest pain, a severe headache, a scratchy throat and possibly a cough.
"The fatigue, don't forget the fatigue," she said.
"You have to understand the symptoms. It’s extremely important."
"It is of utmost importance" to get a test if someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, Coetzee said.
"Please, I need to say this as well. As the disease progressed and we got more information, the patient will typically tell you: 'Doctor, when I went to bed last night, I was fine. During the night I had this start of fever, cold, sweating, woke up this morning with a severe headache and a bit of a scratchy throat …'"
The World Health Organization has said Omicron should not be characterised as mild, although it is a mild infection in some. Coetzee said it "escapes the immune system", resulting in high transmissibility.
"One person can very easily infect three more people," she said.
It was important to wear a mask, Coetzee warned, as a person was "highly contagious" one to three days before experiencing symptoms.
"If you don’t wear a mask, think how many people you can infect."
Although about 3400 people were still being infected per day in South Africa, Coetzee said the country’s fourth wave had peaked and was on a "downward curve".
Health authorities expected to be out of the wave by March, but a fifth wave was expected in May, she said.
She said it seemed like every four months a new wave started.
Coetzee remarked people could speculate when the pandemic will be over, but said when it would end was a "question no one can answer".
On talk of the Covid-19 pandemic becoming endemic, she concluded: "Also remember endemic still means — malaria is endemic and 600,000 people died of it in 2020. We should still wait and see."