The South African doctor who first sounded the alarm over the omicron variant of the coronavirus said the virus has, so far, led to only mild COVID-19 symptoms.

What is the omicron variant?

Over the holiday weekend, experts from around the world announced the discovery of a new coronavirus variant called B.1.1.529, which was reported to have at least 30 mutations in the spike protein and 10 mutations in the ACE2 receptor, both of which can help the virus infect humans, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

  • The World Health Organization — after a brief meeting — warned that the new COVID-19 variant is a variant of concern, giving it the Greek alphabet letter “omicron,” as per the Deseret News.
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What are the omicron variant COVID-19 symptoms?

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC Sunday that she started seeing patients in November with “unusual symptoms” that were slightly different than what she saw among COVID-19 patients infected with the delta variant.

  • “It actually started with a male patient who’s around the age of 33 ... and he said to me that he’s just (been‚ extremely tired for the past few days and he’s got these body aches and pains with a bit of a headache,” she told BBC.
  • The patient had a “scratchy throat,” she said.
  • The patient did not have a cough, or a loss of taste or smell, which are among the most common COVID-19 symptoms.

Coetzee told BBC that so far other patients reported “extremely mild” symptoms.

  • “What we are seeing clinically in South Africa — and remember I’m at the epicenter of this where I’m practicing — is extremely mild, for us (these are‚ mild cases. We haven’t admitted anyone, I’ve spoken to other colleagues of mine and they give the same picture.”

In a similar sense, Dr. Francis Collins, the director for the National Institutes of Health, said on CNN over the weekend that there is “no data so far to suggest” that the omicron variant causes more severe disease or severe symptoms compared to other variants.

  • “There’s even a bit of a report from South Africa that maybe people with this are milder than usual, but they’re mostly young people who have mild illness anyway,” Collins said.

That said, experts have suggested there’s not enough data to know the full extent of the omicron variant’s spread. Per CNBC, a lot of these reports are based on a small number of COVID-19 cases among young people. Experts are still concerned about the contagiousness of the omicron variant.

The WHO said the omicron variant may have an increased risk of reinfection, too, putting previously infected COVID-19 patients at risk again, according to CNBC.