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



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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Man Trying to Cross Channel Dies in Sub-zero Conditions After Going Overboard



A manslaughter investigation is under way in France after a migrant died in sub-zero conditions while trying to cross the English Channel.

The Sudanese man was pulled from the water unconscious after going overboard in the early hours of Friday as he and others attempted to reach the UK.

Aged in his 20s, he was declared dead after being taken back to shore by French rescue teams.

Image: Rescued migrants were suffering from hypothermia

A total of 32 people were rescued off Berck, near Calais, suffering from hypothermia, authorities said.

The prosecutor in Boulogne-sur-Mer said a manslaughter investigation has been opened.


The fatality has been reported less than two months after at least 27 people died when their boat sank off the coast of France.

More than 450 people have already made the life-threatening trip in small boats in 2022.

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In UK waters on Friday, multiple Border Force vessels were active off the Kent coast.

About 35 people were seen being brought to shore by immigration staff.

On Thursday, at least 271 people aboard 10 small boats reached England.

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Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said there were “no simple answers” to the problem.

He added: “But we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.

“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.”

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said the latest death was made “all the more unbearable because of the refusal of governments on both sides of the Channel to address the needs and rights of people compelled to attempt these dangerous journeys”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for more co-operation with Europe in an effort to solve the issue.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This tragic loss of life in France today is devastating and our thoughts are with the victim’s family and loved ones.

“It is sadly another reminder of the extreme dangers of crossing the Channel in small boats and of how vital it is that we work closely together with France to prevent people from making these dangerous crossings.

“The government’s New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken system to welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing the criminality associated with it.”

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Djokovic to Be Detained Again As Australia Cancels Tennis Star’s Visa



Novak Djokovic will be detained again in Australia from tomorrow morning after his lawyers appealed a decision by the country’s immigration minister to cancel his visa for a second time.

The tennis star first had his visa revoked on arrival in Melbourne last week when his COVID vaccination exemption was questioned.

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‘You need to be vaccinated to compete’

But he won a court appeal against the cancellation that allowed him to remain in the country.

At the time, the Australian government said it would continue to look at whether he could stay, which was a decision that was entirely at the discretion of immigration minister Alex Hawke.

He announced on Friday that the Serbian’s visa had been cancelled again, this time on public health grounds.


At a court hearing, Djokovic’s lawyers asked for an injunction to block his removal from the country, saying the reasons behind Mr Hawke’s decision are “patently irrational”.

Image: Djokovic was practising for the Australian Open on Friday morning

Djokovic will be free for Friday night but will be detained at 8am on Saturday morning after being interviewed at the Department for Home Affairs.

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The 34-year-old will then be able to spend time with his lawyers to prepare for his case but will be taken back into detention on Saturday night.

His legal team are pushing for a hearing to take place on Sunday, in the hope of a decision being made ahead of the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic tries to explain ‘mistake’ on Australia entry visa form

Mr Hawke said he made his judgement after “carefully” considering information from the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and from Djokovic.

“Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” he said in a statement.

“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Djokovic vs Australia: What both sides have said until now

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‘This is not over yet’, says Djokovic’s mum

Under the section of the Migration Act used by the minister, Djokovic will not be able to secure a visa to come to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect the country’s interest.

Commenting on the decision, Mr Morrison said Australians have made “many sacrifices” during the pandemic.

“They rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he added. “The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods.

“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic.”

What are Australia’s travel rules?

‘One of the most extraordinary spectacles’

Tom Parmenter

Sports correspondent


The polls would have suggested that the majority of the Australian public expected the government to cancel his visa.

It has taken the Australian government just 96 hours after that court case that got so much attention at the start of the week to make its decision.

Now, we know that Novak Djokovic has admitted to misleading Australian authorities when filling out paperwork in relation to his arrival for the Australian Open, and we know that he in all likelihood broke the Serbian COVID rules.

That is because he tested positive on 16 December and didn’t necessarily isolate.

This is such a mess on the eve of the Australian Open. They made the draw yesterday and Djokovic was included but we understand from Melbourne that the decision is to kick him out and cancel his visa.

It is one of the most extraordinary spectacles in sport, off the tennis court. It has been so bitter on both sides, and it has polarised the anti-vaccination debate.

It has really become much bigger than that now. The polls suggested the majority of the Australian public wanted him kicked out, and the immigration minister has finally acted.

What about the Australian Open?

The second cancellation of Djokovic’s visa comes after he was drawn against fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the Australian Open, which is due to begin on Monday.

The men’s tennis world number one could still file a legal challenge, but if not, his hopes of winning a 10th title at Melbourne Park and 21st grand slam crown will come to an end.

In order to stand a chance at competing, his lawyers would need to go before a judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court or a higher judge of the Federal Court to get two urgent orders.

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Watch: Djokovic training session

One order would be an injunction to prevent his deportation, like the one he gained last week.

The second would order Mr Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.

If he is forced out of the tournament ahead of Monday’s order of play being announced, the seeds will be shuffled around, with fifth seed Andrey Rublev taking the tennis star’s place.

‘Not great for the Australian Open – not great for Novak’

British tennis player Andy Murray described the fallout as “not a good situation”.

He added that it was “not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak and obviously a lot of people have criticised the government here as well, so it’s not been good.

“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down, I said it the other day, it’s not a good situation for anyone,” he said.

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My Agent Ticked the Wrong Box! Djokovic Tries to Explain ‘mistake’ on Australia Entry Form



Novak Djokovic has said his agent made a mistake on his Australia entry form when providing details of his travel in the days before his arrival in the country.

In an Instagram post, he said his “team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter”.

He also admitted being interviewed in person by a journalist from a French magazine in December, even though he had tested positive for COVID the day before.

Australian authorities investigating player’s declaration form as he returns to Australian Open practice

It comes as the Serbian player returned to practice on the tennis court, with photos showing him at Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open – which starts on 17 January and for which Djokovic has been named the number one seed.


Image: Djokovic rests during practice ahead of the Australian Open

In his post, the world number one said he wanted to address the “continuing misinformation” about his movements after testing positive in December, before his arrival in Australia.

A key issue has been his Australia entry form and whether the tennis player might have incorrectly filled it out when he ticked a box indicating he hadn’t travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on 6 January.

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A social media post appears to show Djokovic attended an event in Marbella, Spain, during the period in question.

Separate photos also show the world tennis number one at a training session in the country on 2 January.

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Djokovic apparently training in Spain before Australia trip

Djokovic’s statement

Speaking out on Instagram, Djokovic said: “On the issue of my travel declaration, this was submitted by my support team on my behalf as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia.

“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.

“Today, my team has provided additional information to the Australian Government to clarify this matter.

“While I felt it was important to address and clarify misinformation I will not be making any further comment out of utmost respect for the Australian Government and their authorities and the current process.”

Positive COVID test before interview

Djokovic also admitted attending an interview with French magazine L’Equipe the day after receiving his positive PCR result in December because he “felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down”.

“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he wrote.

He said he received the positive result on 17 December, the same day as he had attended a tennis event in Belgrade to present awards to children.

However, transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with Australian immigration officials submitted to the court in Melbourne show he told them the positive PCR result was on the 16th, the day before the Belgrade event.

‘The most difficult time for us’

Novak Djokovic’s mother has said she is worried that her son could still be deported from Australia and miss the first open of the year because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Speaking to the Australian TV channel Network Seven from Belgrade, Dijana Djokovic said her family is hoping her son will get the chance to defend his title.

Image: Dijana Djokovic, the world number one’s mother, believes the matter is a ‘closed book’

“He’s not a politician, he is not a criminal, he’s not a murderer, he’s just a tennis player, the best in the world. Just let him play,” she said.

She feels that Djokovic’s case should be a “closed book” after a judge said he could stay in Australia.

“I’m very worried, so I realise that this is not over yet, and we are all praying that he will stay, and he will play,” Mrs Djokovic said.

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“I don’t think it’s fair. At least, Judge, Honourable Judge Kelly, he decided, to make a decision that he is free, so I cannot understand how one man can, you know, make the other decision. But I don’t know your laws in your country, so I really don’t understand.”

Read more on this story:
Transcript of Australia Border Force interview shows tennis star’s shock at visa cancellation

The tennis star has reiterated his intention to compete in the open, writing that “it is always an honour and a privilege to play in the Australian Open”.

“I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world,” he said.

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