African scientists say ‘mild omicron’ could end pandemic

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African scientists are optimistic that the variant could mark the end of the pandemic and the beginning of an endemic.

South African virologist Wolfgang Preiser told DW that the behavior of the omicron variant gives hope that the pandemic could become endemic. But he added that it could only be achieved when most of the population has a primary immunity from a previous infection or vaccination.

“I still hope we can get around regular booster shots,” Preiser said. 

“If another variant doesn’t come as a nasty surprise, then we can keep our immunity up by natural means via regular reinfections with the coronavirus,” Preiser added. 

The comparatively mild infections caused by the omicron variant have proved to be good news for African countries where infections have been rising — and have also given scientists hope of a possible end to the pandemic.

“This is very good news,” the Ghanaian epidemiologist Fred Binka told DW. “Viruses have two major characteristics: They have virulence, and they also have the transmission capabilities.”

“They either mutate and gain strength in the transmissibility or their virulence,” Binka said. “So, when they become very transmissible, you have the lower virulence.”

Binka sounded upbeat, adding: “It is obvious that the pandemic is coming to an end, the virus has now established itself, and it will be endemic and be here forever.” He predicted that COVID-19 will become a typical disease “that we can live with and treat.”

According to the World Health Organization, the relatively mild infections do not mean that the world is out of the danger zone yet. 

This week, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the pandemic is nowhere near over. “Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” Tedros said.

“Make no mistake: Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less-severe cases are inundating health facilities,” he added.

Globally, deaths continue to rise. In Africa, there are still concerns about the impact of the pandemic, with vaccinations rates being the lowest in the world. Only 7% of Africa’s population has received a COVID jab.

Photo – A woman walk near coronavirus billboard in Monrovia, Liberia. EPA-EFE/AHMED JALLANZO

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