The discovery of two cases of the new Omicron variant in Ottawa on Sunday confirms what infectious disease experts had already assumed: a new iteration of the COVID-19 virus is spreading. And political leaders around the world are asking themselves: What should we do next?
In my neighborhood, among family and friends, we were headed towards Christmas 2021 with weary relief. Adults are fully vaccinated and parents have booked appointments for their children. The most vulnerable are getting their booster shots while the rest of us wait for our turn.
The children are very happy to see their friends again after coming back to school. They are advancing both academically and psychologically. People are planning holiday celebrations and New Year’s Eve parties, though have waned from previous years.
But now, uncertainty. World Health Organization warning On Monday that the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa last week, has a “very high” global risk, and could cause infections with serious consequences. Israel, Japan and Morocco have already closed their borders to all foreign travelers. Others are obliged to follow.
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As Omicron pops up in Canada, many other countries, threat of vaccine disparity comes to mind
However, there is plenty of reason for hope while researchers scramble to assess just how much of a threat Omicron poses. The authorities are working on a worst-case scenario because COVID-19 has taught us we need it. But the new version may not be as contagious or dangerous or vaccine-resistant as is believed in those scenarios. Even if this is the case, populations in Canada and elsewhere in the developed world are vaccinated at high levels, which may limit the effect of the variant, even if it crosses the immune barrier. And vaccine manufacturers are already rushing to replace their products.
We also need to keep a clear eye on how much or how little emotional resilience is in our population. Can we ask our children to return to virtual learning? Can we as adults bear the mental stress of another lockdown?
The Canadian and global economies are crumbling back to life, despite inflation and supply chain disruptions. Employers are testing new models for partial return to work. Arenas, stadiums, bars and restaurants are full once again. Can we reverse it?
But there is also a bitter truth that whenever governments back down from imposing sanctions, in the hope that the next wave won’t be so bad, they live to regret it.
And remember: While some of us will grumble if we have to return to work from home and order takeout, others don’t have that luxury. Nurses, doctors, personal support workers, cashiers, truck drivers – all essential workers are at higher risk of omicron infection than the rest of us.
Our hospitals were returning to normalcy. Will ICUs refill, forcing the cancellation of so-called elective procedures? Our governments were discontinuing income support. Will they have to air them again? If they do, what is the fiscal space left to make up for the deficit?
What do you do if you’re a prime minister or president, a premier or a governor: Lock in now, to limit the impact of an ohmron-fueled fifth wave, knowing that the whole thing could be a false alarm. Is it, or continue and hope for the best, knowing that you risk the worst?
In the past, waiting and hoping have not ended well. But in the past we were not fully vaccinated.
We can speculate that in places like Florida, people would simply keep going, risking the cost of lives lost rather than sacrificing personal liberty, while other jurisdictions would be more likely to impose restrictions.
O’Micron reminds us that this pandemic is not over yet. Vaccines are a miracle, they blunt the effects of disease. But they are not infallible. The impact of COVID-19 will be with us for months, years. The goal is not to make it go away, but to make it manageable. And we may not be there yet.
In the meantime, if you’re one of the few survivors who oppose vaccination because you don’t want what you wrongly think is an unproven substance in your body, take note: Another Kind Among Us and you are at high risk. Book an appointment now.
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