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Africa May Have Reached the Pandemic's Holy Grail

When the results of his study came in, Kondwani Jambo was stunned.

He's an immunologist in Malawi. And last year he had set out to determine just how many people in his country had been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Jambo, who works for the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, knew the total number of cases was going to be higher than the official numbers. But his study revealed that the scale of spread was beyond anything he had anticipated — with a huge majority of Malawians infected long before the omicron variant emerged. "I was very shocked," he says.

Most important, he says, the finding suggests that it has now been months since Malawi entered something akin to what many countries still struggling with massive omicron waves consider the holy grail: the endemic stage of the pandemic, in which the coronavirus becomes a more predictable seasonal bug like the flu or common cold.

In fact, top scientists in Africa say Malawi is just one of many countries on the continent that appear to have already reached — if not quite endemicity — at least a substantially less threatening stage, as evidenced by both studies of the population's prior exposure to the coronavirus and its experience with the omicron variant.