Just eight weeks since the omicron variant was discovered in South Africa, the country’s wave of infections has sharply fallen. Not only that, but South Africa has weathered its fourth wave of COVID-19 with very little interruption to people’s lives.
CBS News reports that in the suburbs of Johannesburg, restaurants are once again busy, traffic is jammed, and the city is bustling.
After researchers in South Africa notified global authorities of the omicron variant of the coronavirus it quickly became the focus of global anxiety as infections spread across the nation very quickly. Within days, South Africa was the epicenter of the pandemic, but not much happened.
Vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi says coronavirus vaccines added with the high rates of previous infection boosted South Africa’s collective immunity to the virus. It also dramatically reduced the rates of severe illness and death during the fourth wave.
"The omicron wave now accounts for less than 5 percent of all of the deaths that have occurred due to COVID-19 [in South Africa] since the start of the pandemic," Madhi told CBS News. He believes that while many more variants will emerge, the acute phase of the pandemic, with its devastating death tolls, may well be over.
"I'm highly optimistic that we have reached a turning point in this pandemic," he added. "I can't see us revisiting what we experienced during the course of the first three waves in South Africa."
These new revelations could prove to be good news for the United States, however President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Monday that it remains “an open question” whether omicron will eventually be considered the pandemic’s end.
"I would hope that that's the case,” he said. “But that would only be the case if we don't get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant."
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy told CNN that while cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, the country "shouldn't expect a national peak in the next coming days."
Nationally, case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths are still rapidly climbing in many parts of the U.S. But they are dropping fast in New York City, one of the first locations in the country to be hit hard by omicron.
According to CBS News, the data trajectory in NYC closely resembles that seen in South Africa and Britain, which is bringing hope that the good news from Johannesburg will translate into what happens in the United States.