South African doctor who helped discover Omicron says variant’s symptoms mild so far

Patients infected with the new COVID variant have extremely mild symptoms, according to a South African doctor.
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Johannesburg, South Africa taxi stand
Commuters at taxi stand, Johannesburg, South Africa March 18, 2020
(Marco Longari/Getty)

Symptoms of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron are "extremely mild," according to South African Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who was one of the first to recognize the new variant.

She told the BBC Sunday that symptoms include "a bit of a headache," but unlike many other COVID cases, people experience "more of a scratchy" throat, not a sore throat. Infected patients do not have a cough, and they have not been reporting a loss of smell or taste. 

Coetzee, the chair of the South African Medical Association, predicted the variant has already spread across the world, and panic is unnecessary "at this stage."

Omicron was labeled on Friday by the World Health Organization as the newest variant of concern since Delta, which first emerged from India in October 2020. 

Coetzee described her country as the "epicenter" of the pandemic. This is the second variant that has emerged from South Africa. The Beta variant was first documented there in May 2020.

In an effort to fight the new variant in the United States, President Joe Biden instituted new travel restrictions Friday on mostly African nations.

The president's Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci commented on American policy Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

He said it was "too early" to know if another lockdown should be instituted but insisted that "anything and everything" should be done to stop the spread of Omicron.