A bombshell study out of South Africa, which is currently the epicenter of the world’s omicron surge, has indicated that the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic may be ending.

Bloomberg reported that a study of patients infected with COVID-19 at a large hospital in the South African city where the first outbreak of the omicron variant was discovered found that while this variant moved at an “unprecedented speed,” it caused much milder illness than earlier strains.

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“If this pattern continues and is repeated globally, we are likely to see a complete decoupling of case and death rates,” the researchers said, adding that this suggests “omicron may be a harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the Covid pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase.”

The study was carried out at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital Complex, and it looked at 466 patients from the current wave and 3,976 from previous bouts of infection. One of the researchers who worked on the study was Fareed Abdullah, a director at the council and an infectious disease doctor at the hospital.

Since South Africa is the first country to have a major omicron outbreak, it is being closely watched to see how this variant develops. Researchers have warned the comparatively young age of the country’s population and those hospitalized could mask how severe the disease caused by the variant really is, however.

The study found that the rate of admissions climbed rapidly but then began to decline within 33 days of the first analysis. In fact, a snapshot of those admitted to the hospital on December 14 and 15 found that nearly two-thirds of those infected with COVID-19 had been admitted for other reasons.

“This phenomenon has not been observed to this extent before in the Steve Biko Academic Hospital Complex or anywhere in South Africa,” the study said, going on to say that it “most likely reflects high levels of asymptomatic disease in the community with omicron infection.”

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On top of that, the study also found that:

  • Hospital stays averaged 4 days compared with 8.8 in previous waves
  • The mean age of those admitted was 39 compared with almost 50 in earlier waves
  • Admissions to intensive-care units dropped to 1% of patients from 4.3%
  • Admissions peaked at 108 compared with 213 during the delta wave

The researchers concluded by saying that the findings “were comparable to city-wide trends when cases and admissions from all public and private hospitals reported,” and that there was “a lower admission per case ratio, lower death rate and lower rates of admission to the ICU compared to previous waves.”

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