Omicron is the latest trouble threatening the world due to its possibility of forcing fresh round of lockdowns in several countries. This is a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus detected by South Africa and this has lead to travel bans imposed on this country. The travel bans were first triggered by the UK, when news broke that South Africa’s genomics surveillance team had detected a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2 since the pandemic first broke out. This was how they detected this new variant of Covid and instead of getting commended by the Western world what they are getting is travel bans. The World Health Organization (WHO) assigned the name Omicron to the new variant – identified as B.1.1.529 and has declared it a variant of concern.
This article which is well researched and first posted on Nation provides five things you should not do as the Omicron threat rages on. These steps contain the mistakes made by nations and organizations when the Covid pandemic first broke out. A number of such strategies never worked, in fact, they caused more harm than good and this article further warns that countries should not adopt them again.
Strategies to Avoid
Here are steps you should avoid as the Omicron Covid variant threatens the peace of the world due to panic and reality of its devastating effect.
1. Avoid indiscriminate imposition of restrictions
This is always the first step many nations are likely to take often due to unfounded panic. Don’t indiscriminately impose further restrictions, except on indoor gatherings. According to Nation, this strategy was unsuccessful in reducing infections over the past 3 waves in South Africa, considering 60-80 percent people were infected by the virus based on sero-surveys and modelling data. At best, the economically damaging restrictions only spread out the period of time over which the infections took place by about 2-3 weeks. This is unsurprising in the South African context, where ability to adhere to the high levels of restrictions are impractical for the majority of the population and adherence is generally poor. So imposition of restrictions actually does more harm than good to countries.
2. Don’t have domestic (or international) travel bans
Travel bans don’t stop the Covid virus from spreading, as was seen when the pandemic first broke out and countries tried using travel bans to stop the spread but it did not work. According to Nation, “It is naive to believe that imposing travel bans on a handful of countries will stop the import of a variant. This virus will disperse across the globe unless you are an island nation that shuts off the rest of the world.”
The absence of reporting of the variants from countries that have limited sequencing capacity does not infer absence of the variant. Furthermore, unless travel bans are imposed on all other nations that still allow travel with the “red-listed” countries, the variant will directly or indirectly still end up in countries imposing selective travel bans, albeit perhaps delaying it slightly.
In addition, by the time the ban has been imposed, the variant will likely have already been spread. This is already evident from cases of Omicron being reported from Belgium in a person with no links to contact with someone from Southern Africa, as well as cases in Israel, UK and Germany, reports Nation.
What travel bans practically achieve in countries with selective red-listed countries is delay the inevitable. Nations can achieve more results by rigorous exit and entry screening programmes to identify potential cases and mandating vaccination. So travel bans do not work in the long run.
3. Don’t announce unrealistic regulations
This is another huge mistake made by many countries especially in the developing world. They ‘copy and paste’ regulations from the western world thinking such will work in their own local contexts without first checking whether they have the capacity to make such regulations work. You should not announce regulations that are not implementable or enforceable in the local context. Pretending that people adhere to them is one mistake you should not make. This includes banning alcohol sales, whilst being unable to effectively police the black market. It also includes asking people to remain indoors when you do not even have the capacity to provide alternatives to keep them alive at home.
4. Don’t delay and create hurdles to boosting high risk individuals.
There is every need to intensify preventive measures on the highly vulnerable groups. The government should be targeting adults older than 65 with an additional dose of the Pfizer vaccine after they’ve had two shots. The same thing goes for other risk groups such as people with kidney transplants, or people with cancer and on chemotherapy, people with any other sort of underlying immuno-suppressive condition. Countries shouldn’t be ignoring World Health Organization’s guidance which recommends booster doses of high risk groups. It should de-prioritise, for the time being, vaccinating young children with a single dose.
5. Stop selling the herd immunity concept.
In some African countries, the government is making it mandatory for their workers to take the vaccine or risk losing their work. This is probably partly in a bid to achieve herd immunity where almost everyone in the country will be immune to Covid. First, what is herd immunity? Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that can occur with some diseases when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through previous infections or vaccination, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.
Attempting to achieve this concept of herd immunity may have long term negative effect on the fight against Omicron or other Covid variants because it is not a realistic goal at all. Here’s why. Herd immunity is not going to materialise and paradoxically undermines vaccine confidence. The first generation vaccines are highly effective in protecting against severe Covid-19, but less predictable in protecting against infection and mild Covid due to waning of antibody and ongoing mutations of the virus. Vaccination still reduces transmission modestly, which remains of great value, but is unlikely to lead to “herd-immunity” in our lifetimes. What we should be talking about is how to adapt and learn to live with the virus.
These strategies should be considered by nations across the world in order not to make the mistakes that were witnessed when the Covid pandemic first broke out.