Omicron variant: Wait and watch should be the guiding principle
World Health Organisation says it would take at least 10 days to give some authoritative opinion on the new variant
Is it back to square one? The emergence of the new variant Omicron in South Africa and neighbouring countries has resurrected fears of return of total lockdowns and travel bans imposed at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The world is caught unawares by the new variant which is said to have a large number of mutations in comparison to the first one that emerged in Wuhan, China. One expert is quoted as saying that it has 50 mutations, 30 of them on spike protein, which is the target of vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into human body’s cells. It is this severely muted form of the variant that has sparked alarm among the scientific community and the world at large. The new variant could spread faster and could evade the immunity acquired through either vaccination or previous infection. But experts say nothing could conclusively be said on this aspect at the moment and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would take at least 10 days to give some authoritative opinion on this.
The world, which thought it is recovering from the pandemic, at once woke up and took note of this development. Countries, one after another, started slapping travel bans and other measures in a knee-jerk reaction to the unexpected development. This is despite the fact the WHO cautioned against blanket travel bans and border closures. Bitter previous experiences appear to have made the nations extra-cautious and proactive as they do not want to leave anything to chance. But the world is a lot wiser on tackling the situation as it has accumulated a good body of knowledge on the quirky ways of the virus and its ability to strike in unsuspecting ways. This experience should come in handy in the present situation. As of now, the new variant has not claimed any fatality and the jury is still out on its virulent nature. Knee-jerk bans and border closures may not help the situation.
What is the way forward? Are blanket bans the answer? No consensus on this matter yet. Nations are moving on the basis of the advice of their own experts and previous experiences. The UK and many European nations are ahead on the curve, and are taking a number of measures to stop the possible community transmission of the new variant. But wait and watch should be the guiding principle. Nothing is definitively known on how deadly the new variant is. It may be premature to go for blanket bans, stalling the wheels of the world economy which barely started churning after a prolonged lull caused by the previous outbreaks.