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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke November 30, 2021

Many news outlets have reported on the mild symptoms of omicron infections in South Africa

If Your Time is short

  • It’s not true that news organizations are ignoring reports of mild symptoms in omicron cases in South Africa. Many news outlets covered it. 

Amid fears about the new omicron coronavirus variant, a claim is being shared on social media that news outlets are failing to report that, in fact, a doctor who discovered the variant says its symptoms are mild. 

"The S African MD who first detected omicron, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, says its symptoms are ‘very mild.’ That story does not appear on any major news network in the US. Not CNN, Fox, CBS, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, Newsmax, etc. (Only Reuters)," one Nov. 28 post says. "It’s almost like there’s an agenda."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

First we looked for that Reuters story. 

On Nov. 28, the news organization reported that Dr. Angelique Coetzee of South Africa told Reuters that "she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit ‘very mild.’" Coetzee is credited as one of the first doctors to alert authorities about the new coronavirus strain.

CNN reported that day what Coetzee had told Reuters. Fox News cited an interview Coetzee gave the Telegraph, saying that the symptoms of the patients she had treated were "unusual but mild." Newsmax also reported on the Telegraph story, saying that Coetzee treated people with symptoms of intense fatigue but no loss of taste or smell. 

We didn’t find any news reports about Coetzee calling the omicron symptoms mild on the websites of MSNBC, ABC News or CBS News, but we found stories from Nov. 28 on the websites of local affiliates of ABC and CBS. And on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Nov. 28, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gotlieb said, "there's some anecdotal information off of physicians in South Africa that this could be causing mild illness." ABC News posted reports on its website the next day that South Africa doctors were seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases with "mostly mild symptoms."


We also found stories about the mild symptoms Coetzee has documented on many other news sites, including Insider and the Guardian on Nov. 26 and the New York Post and the Telegraph on Nov. 27. Other news organizations also reported on the mild symptoms after this claim was posted on Facebook, including CNBC, Fortune, Bloomberg and the Washington Post.

We rate the post that said only Reuters reported on the omicron variant’s mild symptoms False.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Angelique Coetzee's name.


Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 28, 2021

Reuters, S.African doctor says patients with Omicron variant have "very mild" symptoms, Nov. 28, 2021

CNN, Omicron symptoms were mild, doctor who treated small number of patients in South Africa says, Nov. 28, 2021

Fox News, Omicron variant symptoms ‘unusual but mild,’ South African doctor says, Nov. 28, 2021

Newsmax, S. African Doctor Who Discovered Omicron: 'Unusual But Mild,' Nov. 28, 2021

MSNBC, Dr. Coetzee says Omicron is 'nothing like what we have seen with the Delta variant, Nov. 29, 2021

ABC 27, Omicron variant showing ‘unusual but mild’ symptoms, South African doctor says, Nov. 28, 2021

CBS 17, Omicron variant showing ‘unusual but mild’ symptoms, South African doctor says, Nov. 28, 2021

The Washington Post, Omicron Needs 3 Evolutionary Surprises to Wreak Havoc, Nov. 29, 2021

ABC News, The Latest: CDC says ages 18 and up should get booster shot, Nov. 29, 2021

CBS News, Transcript: Dr. Scott Gottlieb on "Face the Nation," November 28, 2021

The New York Times, Does Omicron Cause Only Mild Illness? The Jury Is Still Out, Nov. 28, 2021

CNBC, South African doctor who first spotted the Covid omicron variant says symptoms seem ‘mild’ so far, Nov. 29, 2021

New York Post, Omicron variant symptoms ‘unusual but mild’, says South African doctor, Nov. 27, 2021

Fortune, Omicron appears to be producing more mild cases of COVID-19 so far. Public health officials are encouraged—but cautious, Nov. 29, 2021

The Telegraph, South African doctor who raised alarm about omicron variant says symptoms are ‘unusual but mild,’ Nov. 27, 2021

Insider, Chair of South African Medical Association says Omicron cases are mild so far, but it's too soon to the determine risk of severe disease, Nov. 26, 2021

The Guardian, South Africa accuses UK and others of ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to new variant, Nov. 26, 2021

Bloomberg, Omicron Can Boost Equities If Symptoms Are Mild, Ackman Says, Nov. 28, 2021

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Many news outlets have reported on the mild symptoms of omicron infections in South Africa

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