At the Commons science committee, Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association has accused the UK of a “knee jerk response” in bringing in a travel ban within 24 hours of Omicron being announced in South Africa last month.
It would have been better to get people to wear masks, socially distance and keep away from large gatherings, she added.
While proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test for certain events could help reduce the spread of the virus, Dr Coetzee said lockdowns were too restrictive.
“What I think is important to do is to get people vaccinated, get people to wear their masks, and get people to stay away from big gatherings. That should be the biggest plan at this stage to have in place,” she told MPs.
Dr Coetzee said she agreed with data released in South Africa today that the severity of disease might be 29% lower than in the country’s previous wave. But she added that the numbers were uncertain and that in many cases, doctors did not know which variant patients were hospitalised with.
Further data from South Africa suggest that a double dose of Pfizer, without a booster, provides 33% protection against Omicron infection, down from 80% with Delta, and 70% protection against severe illness, down from 93% protection against Delta.
In the UK most older people have now received booster shots of Pfizer on top of their original two doses.
“They can still get breakthrough infections,” Dr Coetzee said, “however the breakthrough infections that we are seeing in primary healthcare are mild.”
My colleague Andrew Sparrow has more from the committee over on the UK politics live blog:
At the Commons science committee in the UK, Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, has given evidence about the impact of Omicron in South Africa.
She said Omicron was at least as transmissible as the Delta variant. She said it generally produced a mild disease.
It was different for people in hospital, she said. Most people in hospital were unvaccinated, she said. She told the MPs that they did not do genomic sequencing for most patients, so the hospital statistics did not differentiate between Delta patients and Omicron patients. But she said intensive care units were “not overwhelmed” with Covid cases.
In an article published in UK newspaper the Daily Mail today, Coetzee argues that the UK government is over-reacting. She says:
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.
Billie Eilish has revealed that she had Covid-19 in August, and said that she felt sure she “would have died” had she not been vaccinated.
Appearing on Howard Stern’s US radio show on Monday, Eilish said: “The vaccine is fucking amazing and it also saved [her brother/musical collaborator] Finneas from getting it; it saved my parents from getting it; it saved my friends from getting it.”
Eilish said she was unwell with the virus for two months and that she was still experiencing undisclosed side effects.
“I want it to be clear that it is because of the vaccine I’m fine,” she said. “I think if I weren’t vaccinated, I would have died, because it was bad.
“When I say it was bad, I more just mean that it felt horrible. But really, in the scheme of Covid, it was not bad. You know what I mean? When you’re sick, you feel fucking horrible.”
Read more of Laura Snapes’ report here: Billie Eilish – I would have died from Covid-19 if I hadn’t been vaccinated