Dr. Angelique Coetzee is the South African responsible for alerting health officials about the omicron variant of COVID-19 back in November. At the time of the discovery, she observed that it presented “unusual but mild” symptoms.
This was undeniably good news. Despite being more transmissible, the omicron variant was less severe, and many believed that it meant that the pandemic was nearing its end. But Dr. Coetzee says that she was subjected to “a lot of pressure from European scientists and politicians” to revise her original diagnosis that omicron presented mostly mild symptoms so that the public would perceive omicron to be just as dangerous as the delta variant.
She was subsequently attacked for her refusal to push the preferred narrative.
“Because of all of COVID’s mutations, all of these scientists and politicians who aren’t from South Africa were contacting me telling me I was wrong when I spoke out, that it was a serious disease … they were telling me I had no idea what I was talking about, they kept attacking me,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “In South Africa it is a lighter disease, but in Europe it has been a serious, serious illness, which is what the politicians want me to say … there has been a lot of pressure from European scientists and politicians who have said ‘Please don’t say it is a mild illness.’”
The CDC has confirmed that omicron is less severe than previous variants, including delta. Nevertheless, Coetzee says she was accused of lying, and of “downplaying omicron because of how it has been in Europe.”
COVID cases spiked to the highest levels of the pandemic in Europe during the omicron wave—nearly six times the number of cases at its 2020 peak—but deaths only increased marginally.
“I have stated many times before it can be a serious illness if you are unvaccinated and have comorbidities but for the majority of people it is a mild illness. I am the one who has seen the patients first-hand but the politicians won’t listen,” Coetzee said.