As of Friday, January 21, the coronavirus pandemic had claimed the lives of more than 5.5 million people worldwide. They are highly contagious omicron and delta variants are responsible for the exponential infection rates recorded daily.
Omicron, first discovered and documented in South Africa, is becoming the dominant one variant in many parts of the world, including throughout Africa. ONE South African study has shown that despite the high number of infections, deaths have not increased statistically significantly compared to previous variants.
The fourth wave of infections has been slower in South Africa and life is gradually returning to normal for the first time since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
“I wish I would not even hear the name COVID. That’s what we want,” a Cape Town resident told DW.
Another resident told DW: “It’s very nice to see everyone going out and about, relaxing, walking outside. We’ve been locked inside our houses for how long now ?! I hope omicron is actually the last phase of this virus. “
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 does not come as an ugly surprise, then we can maintain our immunity by natural means through regular coronavirus gene infections,” Preiser added.
Omicron is considered to be the most contagious of all known coronavirus variants
‘Good news’ for Africa?
The relatively mild infections caused by the omicron variant have proven to be good news for African countries, where the infections have increased – and have also given researchers hope for a possible end to the pandemic.
“This is very good news,” it said Ghanaian epidemiologist Fred Binka told DW. “Viruses have two main characteristics: they have virulence, and they also have transmission capabilities.”
“They either mutate and gain strength in transmissibility or their virulence,” Binka said. “So when they become very transmissible, you have the lower virulence.”
Binka sounded optimistic, adding: “It is clear 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 would become a typical disease, “which we can live with and treat.”
Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world
WHO calls for caution
According to the World Health Organization, the relatively mild infections do not mean that the world is out of danger zone yet.
This week, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the pandemic is nowhere near. “Omicron may be less serious on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” Tedros said.
“Make no mistake: Omicron causes hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less severe cases flood health facilities,” he added.
Worldwide, the number of deaths continues to rise. In Africa, there are still concerns about the impact of the pandemic, with vaccination rates being the lowest in the world. Only 7% of Africa’s population has received a COVID jab.
“If you get into a situation where almost everyone has had it or has been vaccinated, you can relax,” Preiser said.
Preiser said African countries, including South Africa, would have to keep pushing for people to be vaccinated.
Binka also said it was key to stay on guard. “Caution is the order of the day,” Binka said, adding that not every detail about Omicron “has been documented, so let’s wait another six months and see what happens.”
African children at higher risk
The cautious optimism of African scientists comes after another study published in JAMA Pediatrics and led by an infectious disease epidemiologist from the University of Pittsburgh found that children hospitalized with COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa is dying at a faster rate than in the US and Europe.
According to the study, children of all ages with comorbidities – including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, hematological disorders and cancer – were more likely to die.
A new study showed that vulnerable African children are more likely to die from COVID-19
“Although our study looked at data from earlier in the pandemic, the situation has not changed much for Africa’s children,” said lead author Jean B. Nachega, associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology and epidemiology at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.
“If anything, it is expected to get worse with the global emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant,” Nachega said.
The professor urged officials to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and therapeutic interventions for qualified children and adolescents at risk in Africa as soon as possible.
On Wednesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa opened a COVID-19 vaccine factory. The NantSA plant in Brackenfell, Western Cape, will produce second-generation vaccines.
“Africa should no longer be at the end of the queue to access pandemic vaccines,” Ramaphosa said at the opening of the facility.
Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu