‘I alerted the wider world to Omicron – and I believe Britain is overreacting’: Doctor Angelique Coetzee


The UK Government’s handling of what Boris Johnson warned will be a ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron infections verges on hysteria.

With predictions of one million cases by the end of the month and concerns about the NHS being overwhelmed with up to 10,000 hospitalisations per day, I gather there is talk of Christmas again being cancelled and a possible New Year lockdown.

Yet you only have to look at the picture in South Africa, where the world’s first known cases of Omicron were spotted, to realise this reaction is out of all proportion to the risks posed by this variant

And I should know — because I am the doctor who first raised the alarm about Omicron back in November.

The variant appeared to have been circulating in South Africa for some time, having previously been identified in Botswana. It was my duty — both as a GP and as chair of the South African Medical Association — to report my concerns.


I have no regrets about doing so, but I was astonished by the extraordinary worldwide reaction in the days that followed, with Britain and some other European nations imposing heavy travel restrictions on flights from across southern Africa, as well as imposing tighter rules at home on mask-wearing, fines and extended quarantines.

I said then that we didn’t know anywhere near enough about Omicron to make such judgments, or impose such policies. Now I find myself even more astonished by the UK Government’s latest pronouncements, given what has become apparent about Omicron in the past four weeks.

I have been working with Omicron patients throughout that time, and I think it’s safe to say that I know more than most about the effects it can have on human beings.

As a general practitioner for more than 33 years, I am one of the foot soldiers who sees patients first. We clinicians deal day-to-day with real people, not statistical projections, and I can reassure you that the symptoms presenting in those with Omicron are very, very mild compared with those we see with the far more dangerous Delta variant.

Don’t just take my word for it. I have seen quite a few Omicron patients who have previously had the Delta variant and they will tell you that, while no one ever wants to get Covid, they feel almost lucky that it was only Omicron they had the second time around.

My first Omicron case, a young man who came into my surgery, initially thought he had been in the sun too long after working outside.

Patients typically present with muscle pain, body aches, a headache and a bit of fatigue. And their symptoms don’t seem to get any worse than that. After about five days they clear up, and that’s it.

In the part of South Africa where I work, there haven’t been many patients admitted to hospital with Omicron, and most have been treated at home, using anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, and low doses of cortisone.

Bear in mind, too, that most of those who contract Omicron here are unvaccinated (only 26 per cent of South Africans are fully vaccinated). While this is certainly not an argument against vaccination — I cannot stress the importance of that enough — it’s reassuring to know that even unprotected bodies fight off this variant much more easily than Delta. Current data indicates that the majority of cases admitted to ICUs are unvaccinated people.

In the UK, where the levels of vaccination are much higher, there is even less reason to worry. A Pfizer/BioNTech booster, given after an initial round of either Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer, raises the level of protection, offering 70-75 per cent protection against symptomatic infection.

To date, some 23.5 million Britons have had all three vaccinations, so it’s completely over the top to be talking about Plan Cs or lockdowns.

Indeed, I am disappointed by such knee-jerk reactions. They bear no relation to what we’re seeing in surgeries in South Africa, where people rarely even discuss Omicron. As one Twitter user commented: ‘Covid’s become a UK neurosis.’

Of course, your Government cannot afford to be complacent. According to the UK Health Security Agency, ten people have so far been hospitalised with the variant in England, and Omicron is expected to become the dominant coronavirus in the capital in the next 48 hours.


On a visit to a London vaccination clinic yesterday, Boris Johnson dismissed the idea that it is ‘somehow a milder version of the virus’, and revealed that at least one person is confirmed to have died with Omicron.

Even one death is one too many. But will there be many more? Our experience in South Africa suggests not.

While Covid-19 admissions are rising sharply in more than half of our nine provinces, deaths are not rising as dramatically and neither is the average length of time people stay in hospital.

Admittedly, our laboratories do not carry out genetic sequencing for every death, so we do not know how many Covid-related deaths can be attributed to Omicron and how many to other variants.

But yesterday there were only 11 Covid-related deaths in South Africa, far fewer than the 578 weekly average reported at Delta’s peak.

If Omicron really were such a deadly variant, we would expect the numbers to have shot up, yet that simply isn’t happening here.

This makes it all the more peculiar to see what’s happening in the UK. This huge over-reaction is scaring people unnecessarily, and if your Government does decide go to for a hard lockdown in the New Year, that could end up doing far more harm than good.

That is because Omicron could potentially be of great help to us — which is certainly not something you could say about the Delta variant.


A hard lockdown would slow the process of Omicron making its way through the population and allowing people to develop the vital antibodies which will move your population towards ‘herd immunity’.

The next variant that comes along might be slower spreading but more severe, and so we will need all the help we can get from such natural immunity.

That can only be of value to us all — unlike restrictive measures that hit the economy hard and will bring about more hardship and poverty, with no gain beyond satisfying the politicians’ need to be seen to be doing something.

So my message to Boris and his ministers is this: stay calm. Take it day by day and do not panic people, because that will only end in chaos. You are already seeing problems with the NHS vaccination booking system following the Prime Minister’s address to the nation of an accelerated booster plan on Sunday.

In the fight against Covid, as in life generally, it’s important to pick your battles, and in over-reacting to Omicron we are in danger of missing out on the benefits of a variant which could be a friend rather than a foe.

Source:‘I alerted the wider world to Omicron – and I believe Britain is overreacting’: Doctor Angelique Coetzee, | The Truthseeker