Hospitalizations linked to Covid-19 are increasing rapidly in a populated South African province where the new omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected.
Hospitalizations across the country have increased 63% since the start of the month, according to data from the country’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases. In Gauteng, a province that includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, hospitalizations have increased nearly 400% since the start of the month, from 120 for the week ending November 6 to 580 for the week ending Saturday.
The South African Institute of Diseases, which is among the group of researchers and government institutions that first reported the variant to the World Health Organization, said in a statement that cases omicron had been found in Gauteng at “a relatively high frequency”.
In a statement released on Sunday, the WHO cautioned against drawing conclusions about a link between the omicron variant and increased hospitalizations.
South Africa has vaccinated around 28% of its 60 million people with at least one dose, according to data collected by the scientific publication Our World in Data. Overall, African countries have vaccinated about 10 percent of their population, compared to 64 percent in North America.
The WHO, which called the omicron a “variant of concern” on Friday, said on Monday it posed a “very high” risk to the world. In the wake of the news, several countries have banned travel from southern African countries, which the WHO criticized.
The variant was first detected in Botswana. Since then, it has been identified in Israel, Canada and other countries.
According to data, hospitalizations have not doubled in any other province in South Africa this month. Less than half of the country’s nine provinces have seen increases in recent weeks.
There have been 29,373 cases and 219 deaths reported in South Africa in the previous seven days, according to an analysis of data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Deaths have increased from the previous seven-day period, and cases are on the rise as well. Adjusted for population, South Africa’s recent case rate ranks it among the half of the countries with the highest rates.
Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has reported 2,963,679 cases and 89,822 deaths.
Monique Hersher contributed.