Hopeful sign? South Africa says death toll 'extremely low' after Omicron wave

"The gap between cases, admissions and deaths continues to widen," a South African official said.

Updated: December 30, 2021 - 11:21pm

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South Africa is nearing the end of its fourth COVID-19 wave without seeing as many deaths as previous waves, according to a government statement Wednesday.

"Hospitalisations and deaths are lower than the second and third wave," Premier of Western Cape Alan Winde said. The COVID variant omicron was discovered in South Africa last month, greatly contributing to the fourth wave. While cases are now declining, Winde said, “the gap between cases, admissions and deaths continues to widen during the fourth wave."

Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council told The New York Times: "The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering."

"Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two. This Omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave," he said.

The high of South Africa's most recent wave appears to have occurred the week of Dec. 13. with nearly 163,000 cases, while the wave's peak death toll seems to have occurred the week of Dec. 20 with 428 deaths, according to World Health Organization data.

This sharply contrasts with previous South African waves. For example, during the third wave there, nearly 133,000 people were diagnosed with COVID the week of July 5, and more than 2,800 people died the week of July 19.

"While the case numbers and test positivity rate during the fourth wave have exceeded previous waves, admissions are below the peak of both the second and the third wave and deaths remain extremely low, in line with previous interwave periods. There is therefore a widening gap between these metrics, pointing to less severe disease during the fourth wave," Winde said.

The South African government is still encouraging vaccinations, and 92% of new COVID deaths occurred amongst those who were not fully vaccinated.

White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers of Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky admitted on Wednesday during a COVID press briefing that the new variant seems milder.