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Netcare CEO Richard Friedland says on the basis of patients the hospital group has treated so far in the fourth wave of Covid-19, admissions are likely to be low. Picture: MARTIN RHODES.
Netcare CEO Richard Friedland says on the basis of patients the hospital group has treated so far in the fourth wave of Covid-19, admissions are likely to be low. Picture: MARTIN RHODES.

Symptoms of people infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 are far milder than those seen in SA’s first three waves of infections, private hospital group Netcare said on Wednesday.

CEO Richard Friedland said he had personally seen many patients in Gauteng and about 90% required no oxygen therapy.

“While we fully recognise that it is still early days, if this trend continues it would appear that with a few exceptions of those requiring tertiary care, the fourth wave can be adequately treated at a primary care level,” he said.

In the first three waves, Netcare’s 49 acute hospitals saw 126,000 Covid-19 patients and admitted 55,000, with one in four needing treatment in high care and intensive care. All admitted patients needed oxygen therapy, said Friedland.

“As of today, we have 337 Covid-19 positive patients admitted [and] approximately 10% are on some form of oxygenation versus 100% in the first three waves,” he said the day after the national positivity rate during a record-breaking surge in new infections reached 24.9%.

“During the first three waves, when the overall community positivity rate breached 26% across SA, we were inundated with Covid-19 admissions to hospital,” he said.

“The very rapid rise in community transmission compared to previous waves may partially explain this relatively low hospital admission rate.

“However, there does appear to be a decoupling in terms of the rate of hospital admissions at this early stage in the evolution of the fourth wave.”

Among the 800 Covid-19 patients admitted by Netcare in the last three weeks, three-quarters were unvaccinated. Three of the four patients who died, all of whom had “significant comorbidities”, were unvaccinated.

Friedland said Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital since November 15 were generally younger than during previous waves.

“Over 71% are below 50 years of age, with an average age of 38.5 years. This compares to only 40% below 50 in the first three waves, with an average age of 54 years.”

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