Omicron variant could signal ‘end of Covid-19’
Some health experts are hoping the Omicron variant will lead to a less severe Covid-19, similar to what happened with the Spanish flu.
‘The virus doesn’t want to kill its host. The virus wants to remain alive.’ Health experts are hoping that Covid-19 is evolving and becoming less severe. Picture: iStock
A health expert in South Africa thinks there could be a “silver lining” to the emergence of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare, said the early signs from Omicron infections suggested the variant was highly contagious, but it did not cause severe illness.
“If, in the second and third wave, we’d seen these levels of positivity to tests conducted, we would have seen very significant increases in hospital admissions, and we’re not seeing that,” said Friedland.
“I actually think there is a silver lining here and this may signal the end of Covid-19.”
He said a similar pattern was seen with the Spanish flu.
The Spanish flu emerged in 1918 and resulted in the death of around 50 million people worldwide. By 1920, the virus that caused it became less deadly, causing only ordinary flu.
Friedland reaffirmed this view on Radio 702, saying: “If we can get a variant that overtakes Delta, that doesn’t cause severe illness, I think we’ll be dealing with a flu-like pandemic.
“This is potentially the evolution of what we saw with the Spanish flu, that it eventually didn’t burn itself out, but it became a lot less virulent.”
‘The virus doesn’t want to kill its host’
Other health experts are also cautiously optimistic that the Omicron variant could mean that Covid-19 becomes less severe.
“It looks like it is not more severe than the Delta variant and previous variants,” said Dr. Nevan Krogan, director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute.
“The goal of the virus is to be able to transmit from host to host. The virus doesn’t want to kill its host. The virus wants to remain alive. How does it do that? By becoming more transmissible.”
Marc Mendelson, the head of infectious diseases at Groote Schuur Hospital, agrees.
“In truth, it doesn’t want to kill you, it wants you to stick around,” he said.
Mendelson, however, warned that the “hopes could be dashed”.
“The only ones putting their hand on their hearts and telling the world don’t worry, this is going to be mild, haven’t learnt enough humility yet in the face of this virus,” he said.
Friedland also suggested that vaccines seemed to be a factor in Omicron’s symptoms being less severe.
“We are seeing breakthrough infections of people who have been vaccinated, but the infections we’re seeing are very mild to moderate. So for healthcare workers who have had boosters, it’s mostly mild,” he said.
“It’s early days, but I’m less panicked. It feels different to me on the ground.”