A dose of realism: On COVID-19 surge post Omicron

Disease prevention with COVID-appropriate behaviour and vaccination is still necessary

Updated - February 03, 2022 09:18 am IST

Published - February 03, 2022 12:02 am IST

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, in a recent briefing, noted that 90 million cases of coronavirus have been reported since the Omicron variant was first identified 10 weeks ago. His statement comes in the context of many countries easing their restrictive movement measures amid public fatigue. From WHO’s perspective, the blanket lifting of restrictions poses a problem as most people appear to believe that Omicron is less threatening compared to previous variants and that two shots of vaccines are an adequate defence against the virus. He underlined that a narrative that “preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary” had taken hold and this was problematic. This was false, he underscored at the briefing, as the virus continues to evolve and four of the six WHO regions globally are reporting an increasing trend in deaths.

Britain, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Finland are on the path of easing COVID-19 restrictions. In India too, with current evidence pointing to a fall in the daily caseload, several States have moved to ease movement restrictions. WHO has also said that the newly emerged variant, BA.2, is as transmissible as Omicron and that all measures needed to contain the original Omicron variant are applicable to it too. After facing criticism that it did not move soon enough in 2020 to alert the world of the magnitude of the calamity that it awaited, WHO, which takes a global view of the crisis, cannot be faulted for airing concerns from the evidence available so far. It has also consistently warned that the pandemic cannot be over until all regions of the world are sufficiently vaccinated and that economic inequity continues to be a driver of the pandemic. The coronavirus, while secular in its infectiousness, affects nations differently. The richer ones can afford to bear the consequences of disrupted social activity a little longer than the rest. Just about half the world has been fully vaccinated; unfortunately, so far, the available vaccines are only equipped to protect against disease rather than infection. WHO must use its influence to continue to encourage vaccination and step in with advice and expertise to help countries access necessary doses and bear upon governments to do more to meet vaccination targets. Framing the pandemic as a war that humanity must ‘win’ was useful to accelerate the development of vaccines. However, science is not equipped yet to predict the future trajectory of the coronavirus; COVID-appropriate behaviour, vaccines and accessible health care remain the only credible defences.

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