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Omicron: South Africa Doctors See ‘skyrocketing’ Cases but Symptoms ‘mild’

Taylor Johnston



Doctors treating people in the region of South Africa where Omicron is surging have told Sky News they have seen a rise in the number of patients being reinfected and vaccinated patients catching COVID-19.

Rates in the Gauteng region, particularly around Pretoria, have rocketed in the last few weeks as the Omicron variant has started to replace Delta nationwide.

But the GPs Sky spoke to confirmed reports from the World Health Organisation that in most cases, so far, those affected by South Africa’s fourth wave of COVID are presenting “mild” symptoms, rather than severe ones.

Dr Sheri Fanaroff, a GP at a private practice and founder of the Gauteng GPs Collective, said: “What we are seeing are a lot of patients getting infected again, both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

‘Good news’ emerges in early Omicron data | latest COVID updates here


Dr Sheri Fanaroff says that she is seeing a rise in vaccinated and unvaccinated cases, but most are mild

“So far, the infections we are seeing are very mild. I am not aware of any patients with severe illness at the moment,” said the doctor, whose patients are “mostly all vaccinated”.

“I am sure there are some but on the ground, at the moment, people are presenting… with sore throats, coughing with fevers, with body pain… viral type of symptoms,” she added.

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“It is still too early to make an assumption because with other strains we saw… more severe illness [occurs] in the second or third week.

“I have an 80-year-old with underlying cardiac disease, he is not well generally. He is on day seven of COVID and doing quite well. All my elderly patients have something… so far they are mild which is the same as what I am hearing from other GPs on the ground in Johannesburg.”

Her observations were echoed by Dr Bhadrashil Modi, another GP, whose practice is in downtown Johannesburg, another city in Gauteng.

He told Sky News: “There has been an increase week on week.

“Two weeks ago, we were hardly seeing COVID patients, maybe one a week. And then last week it started increasing and we were seeing two or three COVID positive patients a day and then this week it skyrocketed and we saw more than ten or fifteen COVID positive patients a day.

“[The] COVID [patients are getting] has not really changed much… the typical symptoms that people are presenting are severe headache, severe body pain, sore throat, maybe a bit of a runny nose, and maybe a cough. There is also a very sudden onset… people are very aware of the approximate time that things started.

“Within a day you just start feeling terrible like a very bad flu, almost like a truck ran over you. That kind of pains but it’s not any different from the previous waves.”

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Professor Anne von Gottberg says that initial data shows a high reinfection rate with the latest variant of concern

Dr Modi said many of the younger patients at his practice were not vaccinated, reflecting the national picture in South Africa, but older ones were more likely to have had the jab.

He said most of the patients he was seeing were unvaccinated, but among those who had been inoculated, the symptoms were “a bit milder”.

Neither doctor was seeing a rise in the number of patients having to go to hospital, but both said it was too early to draw conclusions as it often takes several weeks before symptoms can deteriorate.

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Top tips from WHO to stop COVID spread

Both also said there were no signs at this stage that infants were being unduly affected, as suggested by media reports earlier in the week which said that children under two were accounting for an unexpectedly large proportion of COVID cases.

Dr Fanaroff said: “I know some of the reports coming out of South Africa say that it is affecting mainly only young people, [but] it’s not really what we are seeing as GPs in Johannesburg. We are seeing it affect a whole spectrum.”

Although there is no official data yet available, in the past couple of days, doctors and health chiefs from Botswana, Scotland and other parts of South Africa have also suggested that the variant may be no more likely to result in the need for hospital treatment.

The views of the South African doctors Sky spoke to mirrored the reflections of senior South African health officials.

Barry Schoub, chair of the South African government’s committee on COVID vaccines, told Sky News: “At this stage, the news does look to be promising – the great majority of the breakthrough infection (in other words, individuals that have had infection despite vaccination) is mild.”

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More data on Omicron ‘within days’

Rather than the severity, it is the speed of the spread of Omicron that stands out at this stage, experts say.

One scientist with the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) who spoke in a WHO news conference on Thursday, Professor Anne van Gottberg, said she expected the number of daily cases to top 10,000 today, having risen from 8,561 on Wednesday and 4,373 on Tuesday.

She told the news conference: “Most of these cases are in Gauteng. However, in all of our provinces, we are seeing an increase in the percentage testing positive… and we think that the numbers of cases are going to increase in these provinces.

“Our last reproduction number shows that the reproduction number for South Africa, nationally, has increased and in several other provinces was increasing.”

Scientists from South Africa and neighbouring Botswana were the first to raise the alarm about the new variant spreading rapidly in their regions.

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Omicron: Your questions answered

The warning was issued as some of the districts around Pretoria began to see large, sudden rises in the numbers of people testing positive.

Sequencing of some of those cases found a new variant, which the World Health Organisation later designated a Variant of Concern and called Omicron.

The latest data, according to Professor van Gottberg, found that out of the 249 samples the authorities had been able to sequence in November, 183 were Omicron – around 75%.

Omicron was only first identified in samples taken around 11-13 November, and in the previous months the vast majority were Delta variant.

It has since been identified in more than two dozen countries, including the UK, US, France and India.

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French Sailor Survives 16 Hours in Capsized Boat in Atlantic Ocean Before Rescue

Taylor Johnston



A 62-year-old French man survived for 16 hours in an air bubble inside his capsized sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean before being rescued in an operation described as “verging on the impossible”.

The 40ft Jeanne SOLO Sailor sent out a distress signal at 20.23 on Monday from 14 miles from the Sisargas Islands off Spain’s northwestern Galicia region, the coast guard said.

A rescue ship carrying five divers set sail to rescue the man, who has not been named, as one of three helicopters sent to aid the search located the upturned vessel as the sun went down.

The man responded to divers seeking signs of life by banging on the hull from the inside.

Pic: Salvamento Maritimo

However at the time the sea was too rough to attempt a rescue, so the team attached buoyancy balloons to the ship’s hull to prevent it from sinking further and waited until the morning.


The man was found under the boat wearing a neoprene survival suit submerged in water up to his knees, as two divers swam under to help him out.

He was airlifted to safety and taken to hospital for checks but released soon afterwards with no issues.

Vicente Cobelo, a member of the coastguard’s special operations team, told a local station the man voluntarily jumped into the freezing water and swam under the boat to reach the sea’s surface.

He said: “Of his own initiative, he got into the water and free dived out, helped by the divers who had to pull him through because it was difficult for him to get out in his suit”.

Read more:Stranded boaters jump for joy as they’re rescued in AlaskaDivers rescue diamond ring after woman dropped it in Massachusetts river

Tracking data had shown the Jeanne SOLO Sailor had set sail from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on the morning of the previous day.

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Adam Boulton: Pelosi’s Actions May Be About to Drastically Reshape the World

Taylor Johnston



China’s determination to take control of Taiwan is often cited as one of the likeliest causes of World War Three – a conflict which, it is widely accepted, could even end human civilisation altogether.

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned in advance that the Speaker of the US House of Representatives was “playing with fire” with her planned visit to Taiwan.

Nancy Pelosi duly went ahead anyway.

She was cheered by crowds and praised by Taiwanese Prime Minister Tsai-Ing Wen on Wednesday for her “ironclad” commitment to defending democracy on the island.

She then continued her tour in other Asian countries, while the consequences of her visit are only just hotting up.


On the economic front, China has already banned the import of fruit and fish from Taiwanese sources.

The Chinese government pre-announced that from Thursday it would conduct “live fire” military exercises in six areas of sea around Taiwan, including in what Taiwan claims as its territorial waters, as close as ten miles off the island’s coast.

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China has warned all ships and planes to stay out of the area, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that bystanders will be hit, followed by demands for retaliation.

Over the next few tense days and weeks, it remains to be seen whether Mrs Pelosi’s visit, beyond being a provocation to the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC), will actually inflame the decades-long stand-off over the future of the island.

Decades of threats over Taiwan

A Taiwan navy ship patrolling the waters between the island and the Chinese mainland

The split between Taiwan and mainland China dates back to the Second World War. The defeated Japanese handed Taiwan back to the non-communist government of the Republic of China in 1945. But that government itself was in retreat from the communist takeover. By 1949 it had been pushed back onto the island of Taiwan – roughly 100 miles off the mainland.

Taiwan has prospered as a capitalist democracy, with a highly educated population of some twenty million people.

In the strategic struggle between the superpowers, it is more valuable than ever, because its Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the dominant supplier globally of high-end computer chips.

Taiwan was treated by the west as the legitimate representative of all of China, until 1971 when, as part of the “Nixon in China” opening of relations, UN Resolution 2758 recognized the PRC as “the only legitimate representative of China” and the PRC became a permanent member of the Security Council alongside the US, UK, USSR and France.

The status of Taiwan was unresolved except for various verbal commitments to help the island defend its de facto, but not de jure, independence from the communist PRC.

The PRC has never abandoned its insistence that Taiwan is a breakaway part of the nation which should legitimately be incorporated into its territory. There have been numerous threats and low level confrontations with Chinese forces over the decades especially in the Taiwan Straits separating the two countries.

There is concern now that the Chinese actions and exercises being taken in response to Pelosi’s visit could be harsher and more prolonged than any seen previously, coming close to a temporary blockade.

So far the Taiwanese people appear to be taking it all in their stride, less fearful that the situation will escalate catastrophically than outside observers.

Read more on Taiwan:Why is Nancy Pelosi’s visit so controversial?US is “playing with fire” and “will get burnt”

Why tensions are rising now

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The growing tensions between China and Taiwan explained

There is no doubt that the rhetoric and apparent threat of an armed invasion by China have increased recently.

Xi Jinping is about to hold a meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee confirming that he can stay on as president for life beyond two terms in office.

Nationalism has become central to his campaign to stay in power as China has struggled with COVID and a stalling economy.

Xi went beyond the careful language of his predecessors to state officially that “unification must be fulfilled” and soon, because the Taiwan issue “cannot be passed down from generation to generation”.

The West has responded by upping military co-operation in the region. NATO recently held a joint meeting with Japan and South Korea. The US, UK and Australia are participants in the controversial AUKUS project, so Australia can build up a nuclear submarine capability. The new British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and a strike carrier group were deployed last year to the South China Sea in spite of warnings from China.

This only amounts to gestures of defiance. In practice, nations worried about China still want to keep their position on Taiwan ambiguous.

President Biden rowed back from saying “Yes” to the use of US forces in response to a Chinese invasion. The White House did not endorse Mrs Pelosi’s visit pointing out that Congress is an independent branch of government. The president’s inability to control the behaviour of one of the most senior office holders in his Democrat Party drew criticism at home and abroad.

Lessons from the Ukraine crisis

F-16V fighter jets during a drill in Taiwan. File pic

To some, including Mrs Pelosi, the cautious approach taken to Taiwan is reminiscent of the attitude adopted, ineffectively, in the face of Russian threats against Ukraine.

The British Foreign Secretary was one who drew a parallel.

“There is always a tendency of wishful thinking to think that more bad things won’t happen and to wait until it’s too late,” Liz Truss said in June. “We should have been supplying the defensive weapons into Ukraine earlier. We need to learn that lesson for Taiwan.”

But now that she is front runner to become Prime Minister her campaign has clarified that this was not a suggestion that the UK should help arm Taiwan.

Boris Johnson was similarly evasive on the extent of Britain’s commitment to Taiwan, when challenged in the Commons by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Read more from Adam Boulton:Why Tories should pick a leader for the nation – not the partyNo turning back: The abortion divide between UK and USThe ties that bond the UK together are under stress

Why Pelosi is acting now

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Nancy Pelosi praised Taiwan for being ‘one of the freest societies in the world.’

Nancy Pelosi is running out of time.

Throughout her four decades in public life, representing California on the Pacific coast, she has been a champion of human rights and a strong critic of China including over Tibet, Hong Kong, the Uyghurs, and Taiwan.

The Speaker is third in line to be president and she wanted to make her point with the full weight of her current office.

She may well not be Speaker after November’s mid-term elections, when the Republicans are expected to replace the Democrats as the majority party in the House. Aged 82, she has also said she wants to wind down her leadership role soon.

Nancy Pelosi may have been indulging in gesture politics at the end of a long career but she has highlighted a moral and geopolitical quandary over Taiwan which may be about to drastically reshape the lives of rising generations around the world.

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China Begins Military Exercises Around Taiwan Hours After Two Suspected Drones Fly Over Island’s Territory

Taylor Johnston



China has begun another series of military exercises around Taiwan as tensions continue to rise following a 24-hour visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Chinese state media is reporting the drills are under way hours after suspected drones flew over Taiwan’s territory on Wednesday and hackers targeted the defence ministry’s website.

Taiwan said before the military exercises began on Thursday morning that some of the drills were due to take place within its 12-nautical-mile sea and air territory.

That has never happened before and a senior ministry official described the potential move as “amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan”.

China’s Xinhua news agency had said the exercises, involving live fire drills, would take place in six areas which ring Taiwan from 5am UK time.


It comes as China’s foreign minister described Ms Pelosi’s visit as “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational”.

Taiwan said before the latest round of drills began that it would respond by strengthening its self-defence capabilities and closely coordinate with the United States and like-minded countries.

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Why is Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan so controversial – and why are US-China tensions so high?

Taiwan also said its military is closely monitoring the situation in the strait between the island and mainland China.

The ministry added it will “react appropriately” to enemy behaviour to “safeguard national security and sovereignty”.

Taiwan has been on alert while China has been conducting military exercises in response to the 24-hour visit by Ms Pelosi, the most senior American politician to visit the island in 25 years.

China considers the island to be part of its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments.

On Thursday, Major General Chang Zone-sung, from the Taiwanese army’s Kinmen Defense Command, said a pair of suspected drones flew into the area of the Kinmen islands at around 9pm and 10pm local time (2pm and 3pm UK time) on Wednesday night.

The heavily fortified islands, governed by Taiwan, are just off the southeastern coast of China near the city of Xiamen.

“We immediately fired flares to issue warnings and to drive them away. After that, they turned around. They came into our restricted area and that’s why we dispersed them,” Major General Chang said.

“We have a standard operating procedure. We will react if they come in,” he continued.

Nancy Pelosi speaks at a meeting at the presidential office in Taiwan

Major General Chang said he believed the drones were intended to gather intelligence on Taiwan’s security deployment in its outlying islands.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it is working closely with other authorities to enhance cyber security after hackers targeted its website and temporarily brought it offline.

The cyber attack comes after several of Taiwan’s government websites, including the presidential office, were targeted earlier this week.

Taiwanese authorities said some of the attacks were carried out by China and Russia.

The continuous cyber attacks on government websites “have not caused damage so far”, a Taiwan cabinet spokesman said.

Taiwan’s government is now urging the island’s companies to enhance their cybersecurity in the coming days as authorities were seeing a record number of attacks on their websites amid escalating tensions with China.

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Could Taiwan defend itself against China?

Earlier on Wednesday, Taiwan scrambled jets to warn away 27 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, the island’s defence ministry said, adding that 22 of them crossed the median line separating the island from China.

Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.

It came before China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said punishment of pro-Taiwan independence diehards and external forces was reasonable and lawful.

Read more:Why is Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan so controversial – and why are US-China tensions so high?Analysis: Adam Boulton on the rising rhetoric stirred up by Nancy Pelosi’s visitPelosi leaves Taiwan as China is accused of invading territory in show on force

The Beijing-based office added that Taiwan is not a “regional” issue but China’s internal affair.

A suspected Taiwanese separatist was detained by state security in East China’s Zhejiang province on suspicion of endangering national security on Wednesday, China’s state media reported.

Ms Pelosi concluded her visit to Taiwan on Wednesday with a pledge that the US commitment to democracy on the self-governing island and elsewhere “remains ironclad”.

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