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Covid: Omicron variant becoming ‘dominant’ in South Africa - but early signs suggest symptoms are ‘mild’

The World Health Organization is going to deploy a surge team to South Africa to help with the outbreak of the new Covid variant

Omicron is "rapidly becoming the dominant variant" in South Africa and is driving a sharp rise in new infections, health officials said.

However, Barry Schoub, chair of the South African government’s committee on Covid vaccines, told Sky News that early signs suggest that symptoms from the strain are “mild”.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is going to deploy a surge team to the country to help with the outbreak of the new variant.

They will help with surveillance and contact tracing in the Gauteng province.

It comes as the new variant has been detected in at least 24 countries around the world, WHO said.

What is happening with Omicron in South Africa?

The latest daily Covid figures showed that there were 8,500 new infections in South Africa - almost double the 4,300 the previous day.

This increase in infections is beginning to drive a fourth wave of Covid in the country.

The country’s national health department said there has also been a slight increase in hospital admissions.

Most of the people who have been hospitalised had not been vaccinated against the virus, The National Institute For Communicable Diseases said.

Prof Salim Abdool Karim of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus said the full picture would not be clear until "people get so sick that they need to go to hospital".

He said this usually takes three or four weeks.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged people to get jabbed and said that this is the best way of tackling the virus.

Are the symptoms of Omicron mild?

Mr Schoub told Sky News that the early signs looked “promising” and symptoms for fully-vaccinated people were “mild”.

He said: "Certainly, at this stage, the news does look to be promising - the great majority of the breakthrough infection [individuals that have had the infection despite vaccination] is mild.

"Our hospital surveillance is showing a little bit of an uptick but certainly nothing as dramatic as we’ve seen in the previous waves.

"We’ve only had this virus around for just over a week so I think we really need to watch this space."

Which countries has Omicron been detected in?

India, Saudi Arabia, Ghana and the UAE have all recently detected cases on the new variant.

In Europe, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, France, Denmark, Czech Republic and Spain have all confirmed cases of the variant.

Elsewhere, the US, Japan, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, Australia, Botswana and Reunion have also seen people infected by Omicron.

What are those countries doing about Omicron?

Countries around the world are reintroducing travel restrictions - particularly against southern Africa - as concern about the variant grows.

The UK has put South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe on the travel red list - meaning that people arriving from these countries must quarantine in a hotel.

Japan and Israel have both introduced stringent measures to combat the spread of the strain, with both banning foreigners from visiting.

France, Spain and Portugal have tightened restrictions and the US is considering making changes as well.

How has South Africa reacted to the travel restrictions?

South Africa’s foreign ministry has previously complained that the country is being punished for discovering Omicron.

Mr Ramaphosa also said he was "deeply disappointed" by the travel bans and called them unjustified.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added that the Covid measures were penalising countries in southern Africa.

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