Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a board member of the South African Medical Association, first noticed otherwise healthy patients demonstrating unusual symptoms on Nov. 18.
“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” Coetzee told The Telegraph.
“It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well,” Coetzee explained. “So far, we have detected that those infected do not suffer the loss of taste or smell. They might have a slight cough. There are no prominent symptoms. Of those infected some are currently being treated at home.”
Coetzee reported around two dozen of her patients that tested positive for the coronavirus and displayed these new symptoms. She alerted officials to the possibility of a new variant, which the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated the omicron variant.
Most of the patients were men who reported “feeling so tired,” and half of them were unvaccinated. The patients comprised a range of ages and ethnicities.
Coetzee started briefing other African medical associations on Saturday, discussing the variety of symptoms, such as “one very interesting case” of a six-year-old child with a fever and “very high pulse rate.”
“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,” Coetzee said.
So far, the hospitals are not yet overburdened.
Coetzee’s advisement follows a report by Tulio de Oliveira, the director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation.
Oliveira told reporters the virus has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” most notably 10 variants on a key protein that helps the virus infect humans compared to the delta variant’s two mutations and the beta variant’s three mutations.
He criticized several countries – including the U.S., U.K., South Korea and various countries in Europe – for enacting travel restrictions on South Africa and several other African nations.
“The world should provide support to South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it!” Oliveira tweeted. “By protecting and supporting it, we will protect the world!”