The doctor credited with alerting South African authorities about the omicron variant of COVID-19 warned against overreacting as medical experts advise to prepare for the worst and countries including the United States implement new travel restrictions to stem its spread.
Angelique Coetzee, the chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, told the Telegraph that so far, what the medical community has seen are mild cases, although her patients who contracted the mutated version of the virus were a small group of mostly healthy men, and said, “currently there’s no reason for panicking, as we don’t see severely ill patients.”
“It’s all speculation at this stage," Coatzee said. "It may be it’s highly transmissible, but so far the cases we are seeing are extremely mild. Maybe two weeks from now I will have a different opinion, but this is what we are seeing."
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Coatzee, who runs a private practice in Pretoria, said her patients tested positive for COVID-19 with the new variant, and they have exhibited symptoms including fatigue, body aches, and a recurring dry cough.
Most of the patients were mostly healthy men who turned up “feeling so tired,” and about half of them were unvaccinated, said Coatzee.
Coatzee said her biggest concern is older people who are not vaccinated. She said if the unvaccinated do not get the jab, then "we are going to see many people with a severe [form of the] disease."
The World Health Organization announced Friday it is monitoring the omicron variant, declaring it a "variant of concern." WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said countries should not yet implement travel restrictions, although countries such as the U.S. have done so as a precaution. Included in the U.S. restrictions, which go into effect Monday, are South Africa and seven other countries.
A WHO statement on Sunday said researchers around the world are studying the variant but stressed, "There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants."
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Dutch authorities believe the new COVID-19 variant was found among 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa who tested positive on Friday. The omicron-positive passengers are being isolated as authorities further investigate the cases.
President Joe Biden, upon returning from a Thanksgiving holiday stay in Nantucket, Massachusetts, will have an in-person briefing Sunday afternoon with members of his COVID-19 response team, including chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, to provide an update on the omicron variant and the administration’s response, according to the White House.
Fauci told ABC News on Sunday that the omicron variant will "inevitably" make its way to the U.S.
"The question is: Will we be prepared for it? And the preparation that we have ongoing for what we're doing now with the delta variant just needs to be revved up. And that's the bottom line of that is the preparation by getting more and more people vaccinated and getting the fully vaccinated boosted," he said.