The risk of reinfection from the Omicron coronavirus variant is three times higher than for any previous strain, according to a South African study of infections since the start of the pandemic.
The finding provides evidence of Omicron’s “ability to evade immunity from prior infection,” according to the authors, Juliet Pulliam of the South African Center for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and Harry Moultrie of the National Center for Communicable Diseases.
The study was based on data collected through South Africa’s health system on about 2.8 million confirmed coronavirus infections between March 2020 and November 27, the authors wrote in an emailed statement. Of those, 35,670 were suspected reinfections. “Our most urgent priority now is to quantify the extent of omicron’s immune escape for both natural and vaccine-derived immunity, as well as its transmissibility relative to other variants and impact on disease severity,” they wrote.
That strain has rapidly taken hold in Africa’s most-industrialised nation. New cases exceeded 11,000 on Thursday, compared with 585 two weeks ago, according to the government data. In Gauteng, the nation’s richest province and its Covid-19 epicenter, each infected person on average is able to pass on the virus to another 2.33, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
As Omicron cases continued to pop across the world, IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath and Tobias Adrian, head of the fund’s monetary and capital markets division, in a blog warned that the resurgence of the pandemic and the Omicron variant had sharply increased uncertainty around global economic prospects. But they said the strength of the recovery and the magnitude of underlying inflationary pressures varied widely across countries, and policy responses could be calibrated to the unique circumstances of individual economies.
They warned of intensifying inflationary pressures, especially in the US, and suggested that “it would be appropriate for the Federal Reserve to accelerate the taper of asset purchases”.
Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO chief scientist, on the other hand urged people not to panic over Omicron and said it was too early to say if Covid-19 vaccines would have to be modified to fight the mutant.