Dr Angelique Coetzee is asked how many patients infected with Omicron she has seen with the most severe symptoms.
“No one,” she replies. Apart, that is, from a man with HIV who had pneumonia and comorbidities.
“I haven’t seen any COVID-19 pneumonia and neither have my colleagues,” she adds.
A couple of patients she saw before her interview with Sky News were showing mild symptoms.
“They’re happy, they’re going on holiday,” she says with something resembling a shrug. Boris Johnson is creating “hysteria”, the GP who also heads South Africa’s Medical Association says, adding that the UK is much better vaccinated than her country.
With tens of thousands testing positive every day, few South Africans doubt the explosive transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
Yet Dr Coetzee says the difference between Omicron and the last dominant variant, Delta, is stark.
“Delta was terrible, it was heart-breaking. When (the patients) opened the door you just knew they were in trouble,” Dr Coetzee explains.
“The next thing I had to think about was beds, oxygen, what are we going to do. At this surgery, I think in total we had 10 deaths and the patients were extremely, extremely sick.”
She is asked if, three weeks into the Omicron outbreak, she has witnessed similar scenes
“No,” Dr Coetzee replies.
The medic has been asked to scrutinise the UK government’s response to the new strain by Westminster’s science and technology committee.
Britain’s approach to Omicron – with predictions of one million infections by the end of the month and moving hospitals into “crisis-mode” – rankles with Dr Coetzee because she does not think the evidence supports such actions.
“They need to understand the clinical picture,” she says, adding that there is a “huge gap” between “the science and what is actually happening”.
“What do I give to (Omicron) patients? Do I give them the same treatment as Delta? No, you don’t have to. There is no need for that.”
“Do you think the UK is over-reacting?” she is asked.
“You need to take precautionary measures, you have to be prepared but don’t hype it up, (don’t say) that people are going to die from viral infection, that hospitals will be overwhelmed. It is better to wait and see.”
Dr Coetzee also worries that emergency booster campaigns can act as a source of transmission with tens of thousands forced to queue for added protection.
And she thinks the skill and knowledge of South African medical professionals have been overlooked.
“(To the UK’s) prime minister, just don’t say these things, that is hysteria,” she says.
“If you say to people they are going to be overwhelmed, a million cases … remember the UK is much better vaccinated than (South Africa) and even if you get breakthrough infections, it’s mild cases, so please let us see what is happening (first).”
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