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Covid-19 hospitalizations rising in South Africa’s omicron hot spot

Admissions have increased nearly fourfold since the beginning of November.

Covid-19 hospitalizations are rising rapidly in a populous South African province where the new omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected. 

Hospitalizations across the country have increased by 63 percent since the beginning of the month, according to data from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. In Gauteng, a province that includes the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, hospitalizations are up by nearly 400 percent since the beginning of the month, from 120 for the week ending Nov. 6 to 580 for the week ending Saturday.

The South Africa diseases institute, part of the group of researchers and government institutions that first reported the variant to the World Health Organization, said in a statement that omicron cases were found in Gauteng at “a relatively high frequency.”

In a statement Sunday, the WHO cautioned against drawing conclusions about a link between the omicron variant and the increase in hospitalizations.

South Africa has vaccinated about 28 percent of its 60 million residents with at least one dose, according to data collected by the science publication Our World in Data. As a whole, African countries have vaccinated about 10 percent of their populations, compared to 64 percent in North America.

The WHO, which labeled omicron a “variant of concern” Friday, said Monday that it poses a “very high” risk to the world. In the wake of the news, multiple countries have issued bans on travel from southern African countries, which the WHO has criticized.

The variant was first detected in Botswana. Since then, it has been identified in Israel, Canada and other countries.

According to the data, hospitalizations have barely increased in any other of South Africa's nine provinces this month, with just two provinces posting 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 compared to the previous seven-day period, and cases are up, as well. Adjusted for population, South Africa’s recent case rate ranks it among the half of countries with the highest rates.

Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has reported 2,963,679 cases and 89,822 deaths.