Covid-19: Fourth-wave patients - mostly unvaccinated - show mild symptoms, says Netcare CEO

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Netcare's Covid-19 patients have shown mild symptoms.
Netcare's Covid-19 patients have shown mild symptoms.
Jaco Marais/Netwerk24
  • Netcare CEO Richard Friedland said most patients at the group’s Gauteng hospitals are showing milder symptoms compared to the previous waves
  • About 90% of the Covid-19 patients at Netcare’s hospitals don’t need oxygen, he said describing the cases as "incidental".
  • Despite the less severe fourth wave, Friedland urged South Africans to be cautious and to take the virus seriously.  

It’s been three weeks since South Africa discovered the Omicron Covid-19 variant and the latest figures from the Department of Health show more than 13 000 new cases - but the situation is not as dire as it was in the first three waves.

On Wednesday, in an update, Netcare CEO Richard Friedland said most patients at the group’s Gauteng hospitals were showing milder symptoms compared to the previous waves. And about 90% of the Covid-19 patients at Netcare’s hospitals don’t need oxygen, he said describing the cases as "incidental". 

"While we fully recognise that it is still early days, if this trend continues, it would appear that with a few exceptions of those requiring tertiary care, the fourth wave can be adequately treated at a primary care level," Friedland said.

The CEO explained that in the first three waves of the pandemic, the group treated 129 000 patients at its 49 hospitals. Of that number 55 000 needed to be admitted, and 26% of these patients were admitted into ICU. The waves were so severe that all Covid-19 patients who were admitted, required some form of oxygen therapy.

However, the trend appears to have shifted and Netcare has 337 Covid-19 patients in its hospitals; 72% are in Gauteng and 18% are in KwaZulu-Natal. About 10% of these patients are on some type of oxygen treatment, compared to 100% in the first three waves, and 2% of patients are on ventilators, primarily trauma patients who also tested positive for Covid-19. 

Majority unvaccinated

A majority of the 800 Covid-19 patients who have been admitted to Netcare hospitals, since 15 November, were unvaccinated, making up 75% of the cohort. Four of the patients, aged between 58 and 91 died from the virus, and all had serious co-morbidities. Only one of these patients was vaccinated. 

"In terms of age distribution, Covid-19 patients admitted since 15 November are on average younger than those seen during the first three waves with over 71% being below 50 years of age, with an average age of 38.5 years. This compares to only 40% below 50 years of age in the first three waves, with an average age of 54 years," Friedland said.

He added that the patients had mild to moderate flu-like symptoms such as a blocked or runny nose, scratchy or sore throat, and headaches. 

Despite the less severe fourth wave, Friedland urged South Africans to be cautious and to take the virus seriously.  

"Netcare strongly supports the need for all South Africans to be vaccinated, as vaccines have been proven to be safe and highly effective in decreasing transmission and saving lives globally. 

"We cannot emphasise strongly enough the need for vaccination and all non-pharmaceutical precautions – particularly the wearing of masks, which has proven to be extremely effective in preventing transmission – to be diligently followed, as every person has a responsibility to help flatten this anticipated new curve to avoid contracting and passing on the virus," he said.

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