In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who first discovered the Omicron variant of the COVID virus, accuses European governments and scientists of pressuring her to suppress her opinion on the variant as a “mild disease.” She believes governments have “definitely overreacted” in response to the Omicron variant and that “people didn’t want to believe that it could be mild.”
Coetzee, who is also the chair of the South African Medical Association, also argues that it’s not possible to “vaccinate ourselves out of the pandemic” and that, instead, a “combination of measures,” such as wearing masks and keeping personal distance, would help to end the pandemic instead. The doctor believes that the 4th wave of the virus is coming to an end, and if there will be no 5th wave by the end of the year, the time will have come to conclude that we have passed into an endemic situation.
With regards to the severity of the Omicron variant, Coetzee defends her initial stance of classifying it as a mild disease:
I am a clinician, and based on the disease pattern there are no indicators that this is a serious disease. The course of the disease is mostly mild. I’m not saying that you can’t get ill with a mild course of the disease. The definition of a mild COVID-19 infection is clear, it’s defined by the WHO: patients can be treated at home, and treatment with oxygen or even a hospitalization isn’t necessary.
When Coetzee was asked to “distance herself from such statements,” she refused. “I can’t say that,” she explains, “it’s not what we’re observing.” At some point she grew tired of how officials were trying to shut her up, leading her to call Omicron “a mild illness in South Africa, but a very serious one in Europe,” since that’s “what your [European] politicians wanted to hear.”
I don’t take part in political struggles. But yes, I have been criticized by some of your [European] countries. In the Netherlands, in the UK, scientists asked: “How can you explain that it’s a mild disease? It’s a serious illness. Look at the mutations.” My reports have thrown them off track. In a pandemic, you also have to look at what’s happening at the grassroots level. The general practitioners who treat the sick every day must be asked what they experience, how the clinical picture presents itself … How many doctors dealing with patients were asked about their opinion in your countries? It’s always the opinions of scientists or professors that matter, people that never get in touch with a patient. Nobody asks what happens at the grassroots level.
The South African doctor’s gut feeling tells her that “many mistakes have been made” and that there are many “regulations that make no sense.” The learning process, however, is hampered not least by “scientists pushing their own agenda.” She warns that it is crucial for scientists to disclose any “ties to pharmaceutical companies” and whether there are “monetary rewards for promoting certain products.” For Coetzee, it is of the utmost importance to “put the health of the general public first.”
In another interview with Australia’s Daily Telegraph Coetzee confirmed once more the allegations that “there has been a lot of pressure from European scientists and politicians” asking her not to say it is a mild illness. But Coetzee isn’t planning to accommodate: “I will not be silenced.”
After being discovered by Angelique Coetzee in November 2021, the Omicron variant rapidly became the most widespread variant of COVID in Europe. Despite initial warnings by many health officials and politicians, the Omicron variant has proven to be less lethal and less severe than previous variants of the virus.