Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

Experts Predict How the Pandemic May End


African experts predict the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic might come to an end in 2022, but the disease will remain for a long time afterward.

Evidence shows that the omicron variant, the most infectious strain of the disease yet, typically causes mild symptoms and lower hospitalization and death rates.

It’s leading scientists to ponder whether omicron could signal the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

“I’m highly optimistic that we have reached a turning point in this pandemic,” South African researcher Dr. Shabir Mahdi told CBS television network.

In South Africa, where the omicron variant was first reported in late November, new daily cases peaked around mid-December and rapidly declined, fueling hope the wave of omicron cases may be short-lived.

Eventually, experts say, COVID-19 will become endemic. That means it continues to circulate in a given population but in predictable, often seasonal, patterns and with fewer waves of infection.

Viruses typically become less severe over time, and COVID-19 could become just another disease that countries must deal with regularly like malaria or tuberculosis. Public health officials, however, warn it is highly unlikely COVID-19 will be eliminated and say it will continue to kill people for years to come, though at much lower levels.

Dr. Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO), recently warned that “we may never end the virus.”

“Endemic malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people, endemic HIV, endemic violence in our inner cities,” he said during a January 18 panel discussion hosted and broadcast by the World Economic Forum.

“Endemic in itself does not mean good. Endemic just means it’s here forever.”

With 37 mutations in the spike protein that it uses to latch onto and invade cells, omicron is at least twice as transmissible as the delta variant. It is rapidly becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Africa.

Researchers at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa recently released a study that showed how omicron neutralizes and displaces previous variants, as patients who contracted the omicron strain were far less likely to be infected or reinfected with delta.

“If omicron does prove to be less pathogenic, then this may show that the course of the pandemic has shifted,” the study’s lead researcher, Professor Alex Sigal, said in a statement. “Omicron will take over, at least for now, and we may have less disruption of our lives.”

Other studies in South Africa and the United Kingdom found omicron patients to be 50% to 80% less likely to be hospitalized — a huge relief to a health care system that was overwhelmed in 2021.

Mahdi, who works at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said omicron accounts for less than 5% of all COVID-19 deaths in South Africa since the start of the pandemic.

“I can’t see us revisiting what we experienced during the course of the first three waves in South Africa,” he said.

The numbers offer plenty of reasons for hope, but as COVID-19 transitions to an endemic state, experts caution that continued mutations make it impossible to predict the future.

“While the acceleration, peak and decline of this wave have been unmatched, its impact has been moderate, and Africa is emerging with fewer deaths and lower hospitalizations,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said during a January 20 briefing.

“But the continent has yet to turn the tables on this pandemic. So long as the virus continues to circulate, further pandemic waves are inevitable.”

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