PREPRINT: Early assessment of the clinical severity of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant in South Africa
The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant of concern (VOC) almost completely replaced other variants in South Africa during November 2021, and was associated with a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. We aimed to assess clinical severity of individuals infected with Omicron, using S Gene Target Failure (SGTF) on the Thermo Fisher Scientific TaqPath COVID-19 PCR test as a proxy.
We performed data linkages for (i) SARS-CoV-2 laboratory tests, (ii) COVID-19 case data, (iii) genome data, and (iv) the DATCOV national hospital surveillance system for the whole of South Africa. For cases identified using Thermo Fisher TaqPath COVID-19 PCR, infections were designated as SGTF or non-SGTF. Disease severity was assessed using multivariable logistic regression models comparing SGTF-infected individuals diagnosed between 1 October to 30 November to (i) non-SGTF in the same period, and (ii) Delta infections diagnosed between April and November 2021.
From 1 October through 6 December 2021, 161,328 COVID-19 cases were reported nationally; 38,282 were tested using TaqPath PCR and 29,721 SGTF infections were identified. The proportion of SGTF infections increased from 3% in early October (week 39) to 98% in early December (week 48). On multivariable analysis, after controlling for factors associated with hospitalisation, individuals with SGTF infection had lower odds of being admitted to hospital compared to non-SGTF infections (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 0.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.1-0.3). Among hospitalised individuals, after controlling for factors associated with severe disease, the odds of severe disease did not differ between SGTF-infected individuals compared to non-SGTF individuals diagnosed during the same time period (aOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.3-1.4). Compared to earlier Delta infections, after controlling for factors associated with severe disease, SGTF-infected individuals had a lower odds of severe disease (aOR 0.3, 95% CI 0.2-0.5).
Early analyses suggest a reduced risk of hospitalisation among SGTF-infected individuals when compared to non-SGTF infected individuals in the same time period. Once hospitalised, risk of severe disease was similar for SGTF- and non-SGTF infected individuals, while SGTF-infected individuals had a reduced risk of severe disease when compared to earlier Delta-infected individuals. Some of this reducton is likely a result of high population immunity.