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Will Omicron lead South Africa into endemics?


The omicron variant was identified by researchers in South Africa in mid-November. The number of infections rose rapidly and then fell again at a similarly rapid rate. The peak of the omicron wave was already reached at the end of December, and scientists predict that it will have ebbed away completely in a few weeks. Since the health system was not expected to be overloaded, the government has taken a “pragmatic path” and relaxed various measures. The end of the pandemic seems to be within reach, at least in the Cape of Good Hope, but there can be no talk of an easing.

How is the infection process developing in South Africa at the moment?

The number of new infections continues to decrease – on average it was around 6,000 cases a day this week. When it peaked in mid-December, it was over 20,500. Scientists have now confirmed what had already been suggested: in contrast to previous waves, asymptomatic cases have been the driving force behind the omicron infection process. Positive tests were often incidental findings in the hospitals, and milder courses were more the rule than the exception. Significantly fewer patients had to be treated in hospital because of a corona infection and were discharged more quickly, the intensive care units did not reach their capacity limits, the number of deaths was significantly lower and excess mortality was also limited compared to previous waves. Half of the Covid patients since the beginning of the pandemic have died during the devastating delta wave – just five percent in the ebbing omicron wave, says Professor Shabir Mahdi of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Scientists like him attribute this to a combination of different factors: the properties of the virus variant, the high number of people who have recovered and the protection provided by vaccinations. The second aspect is apparently crucial: Studies indicate that over 70 percent of South Africans had already been infected with the corona virus in one of the first three waves. About three quarters of the population are not yet fully vaccinated. Researchers emphasize that the fact that the omicron wave in South Africa was comparatively mild should not hide the fact that South Africa, with its almost 60 million inhabitants, has already had almost 93,000 corona deaths.

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