As panic circles the globe over a new coronavirus variant first reported in South Africa, the doctor who first noticed the variant is asking for a dose of calm.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee said that the unusual infections she was seeing in her private practice in Pretoria earlier this month presented “unusual but mild” symptoms, according to the Telegraph.
Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said it was “premature” to say the virus was going to mushroom into a global health crisis, according to the Guardian. On Friday, the World Health Association dubbed the Omicron variant a variant of concern. President Joe Biden then slapped travel restrictions on multiple African countries.
“It’s all speculation at this stage. It may be it’s highly transmissible, but so far the cases we are seeing are extremely mild,” she said.
“Maybe two weeks from now I will have a different opinion, but this is what we are seeing. So are we seriously worried? No. We are concerned and we watch what’s happening. But for now we’re saying, ‘OK: there’s a whole hype out there. [We’re] not sure why.’”
#OmicronVariant "presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well. […] as medical practitioners, we do not know why so much hype is being driven"
Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of SAMAhttps://t.co/rYMOy1QHYY
— Argo Nerd (@argonerd) November 27, 2021
Coetzee said she would like more people to get vaccinated.
“Unfortunately, it’s not only the responsibility of the government; it’s the responsibility of the public as well … You can only ask people so many times to go and get vaccinated, and if you don’t listen, then there’s consequences, and then you have to take the consequences,” she said.
She said that the patients she treated came from very different backgrounds and had intense fatigue. None had a loss of test or smell. A 6-year-old child she treated had a high pulse rate.
“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” she said, according to the Telegraph.
Coetzee said that after she treated a family of four who tested positive for the virus and had complete exhaustion, she alerted South Africa’s vaccine advisory committee.
About two dozen people have exhibited symptoms of the new variant, she said, adding that they were mostly healthy men who came to her “feeling so tired.” About half of those she treated were not vaccinated.
“We had one very interesting case, a kid, about 6 years old, with a temperature and a very high pulse rate, and I wondered if I should admit her. But when I followed up two days later, she was so much better,” Coetzee said.
"Round about the 18 November, I all of a sudden encountered unusual symptoms" in a patient who was "extremely tired for the past two days"
Dr Angelique Coetzee explains how she became aware of the Omicron coronavirus variant
https://t.co/RsskjmFkLd #Marr pic.twitter.com/pXtyYsQxxR
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 28, 2021
Older individuals with conditions such as diabetes or heart disease could face more complications from the variant than the people she treated, she said.
“What we have to worry about now is that when older, unvaccinated people are infected with the new variant, and if they are not vaccinated, we are going to see many people with a severe [form of the] disease,” she said.
South African officials have voiced anger at the restrictions slapped on the nation.
“The reaction of countries to impose travel bans are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization,” said Joe Phaahla, the country’s health minister, the Guardian reported. “The same countries that are enacting this kind of knee-jerk, draconian reaction are battling their own waves.”
Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents, called the restrictions a “a knee-jerk reaction.”