Though the Omicron variant has dominated news stories this week around the world, little is known about its implications on the individual so far in the UK.
But a doctor, who was the first to identify the signs of the new variant, has warned of some of the symptoms to look out for.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of the South African Medical Association, told Good Morning Britain how this mutation of coronavirus differs from the original.
Omicron was first reported in South Africa last week, with cases now being identified in countries around the world – including in the UK.
Scientists are still learning more about this adaptation of the virus which has several mutations, leaving experts concerned whether it’s more transmissible and could escape some of the vaccine protection.
Dr Coetzee said she noticed things in this version of Covid not previously seen, after a 30-year-old man came to see her with viral symptoms.
“For about eight to 10 weeks we hadn’t seen any new Covid cases in our region where we are practising,” she said. “Then all of a sudden on November 18, I saw young men coming in with symptoms similar to a viral infection.
“We did rapid testing, and they were positive for Covid-19. It’s very unusual to see a 30-year-old man come into the surgery, very seldom, then all of a sudden they complain about extreme fatigue for two days with body aches and a headache, very suggestive of a viral infection. Because the rest of the family also was not feeling well, I decided to test them.”
They tested positive for Covid-19 and Dr Coetzee began charting their symptoms, especially as more people started coming in with similar signs.
The main indicators were fatigue, body aches and headaches, she said. Dr Coetzee also said that patients, thus far, did not report losing their taste or smell as with the Delta variant, and there hadn’t been a drop in oxygen levels as seen in previous variants.
She also said she had seen more cases among younger people, particularly 40 and younger, but that they’d recovered without any severe or lasting symptoms.
Other South African doctors have also shared Dr Coetzee’s assessment, saying symptoms are mild.
Dr Unben Pillay, a general practitioner in Gauteng province, where 81% of the new cases were reported, said in a press briefing yesterday: “We’ve seen a sharp increase in cases for the past 10 days. So far they have mostly been very mild cases, with patients having flu-like symptoms: dry coughs, fever, night sweats, a lot of body pains.
“Most of these patients have been treated at home. Vaccinated people tend to do much better. We have not seen a vast increase in hospitalisations, but this is still early days. Hospitalisations often come several days after a rise in confirmed cases.”
Meanwhile scientists in the US have said that modifying vaccines to fight against the new variant will be ‘pretty easy’.
Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, who advises the president, told press: “What you’ve got to do is change and modify what the vaccine is going to be, which you can do pretty easily.
“We can move very fast, we think weeks to within two to three months, we would be able to have an Omicron-specific vaccine booster available for testing and then for administration.”
Despite these reports of milder symptoms, it’s still too early to know what impact the variant could have on cases of severe disease and hospitalisations. Omicron has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation, which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Health experts all over the world are still encouraging people to get vaccinated and get the booster as it will still offer some or a lot of protection over the virus and its mutations.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.