Omicron; the new twist in a long saga

Diseases have come and gone over millennia, and it is in the hands of humanity to ensure this does not get any worse than it already is.

COVID-19 has been the nightmare that keeps on repeating, a bad dream the world has been unable to wake up from. There have been more than 91,000 infections and 250 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Maldives since the pandemic began, and the nation appears to have reached a state of complacency. The numbers have been decreasing, and as the plague-free dawn was just peaking over the horizon, a new variant decides to surface.

Dubbed Omicron, this is the 15th variant to this highly contagious and dangerous disease, although the WHO has skipped out the actual 13th and 14th letters of the Greek alphabet to name it thus. Announced last week by the skilled virologists and scientists from South Africa, Omicron has claimed its existence in the lungs of 183 people at the time of publication. Their fear is that this variant is much more transmissible, less obvious in terms of symptoms, and could potentially claim a lot more lives than the other three ‘variants of concern’. 

According to the Guardian international website, scientists are substantially more concerned about this variant as it “has more than 30 mutations on its spike protein – the key used by the virus to unlock our body’s cells – more than double the number carried by Delta. Such a dramatic change has raised concerns that the antibodies from previous infections or vaccination may no longer be well matched. Purely based on knowing the list of mutations, scientists anticipate that the virus will be more likely to infect – or reinfect – people who have immunity to earlier variants.”

On top of that, reports:

“So far, cases of the variant have appeared primarily in young people, leaving them exhausted and with body aches and soreness, according to Dr. Angelique Coetzee, head of the South African Medical Association. “We’re not talking about patients that might go straight to a hospital and be admitted,” she told the BBC.

Compared to its pandemic peak, cases in South Africa are relatively low right now. However, the country has still seen a substantial spike in new infections: On Friday, South Africa reported 2,828 new COVID-19 cases, according to the Associated Press, with as many as 90 percent of those cases potentially caused by the Omicron variant.”

As a result, another slew of travel restrictions are rippling across the world, primarily centred around African nations although the variant has been found in nations as widely spread out as the Palestinian territory, Botswana, Spain, United Kingdom, Belgium, and cities like Hong Kong. Given how tourism in the Maldives is on a rampant expansion, the chances that variant could be found on these shores is likely, within the next week or so. 

Yet, a glimmer of hope in these bleak times is how the measures taken since the beginning of the pandemic has been having a positive impact on reducing the spread of the disease. Masking up, social distancing, constant testing and reporting has allowed the HPA to crack down on clusters and manage their spread better. Although in April and May of 2021, oversights by the Solih Administration in the lead up to the local council elections had spiked cases and deaths to an all time high, the people have been diligent for the most part in playing their part.

Vaccination drives has been hugely successful, barring the minor groups of individuals who claim conspiracies, in creating and maintaining ‘herd immunity’ as per the statistics, yet the fear that the new variant may evade vaccine-induced immunity raises multiple concerns. However, pharmaceutical companies have already announced their continued work on reworking and improving their current vaccine formulae, promising rollouts of viable defences within the next two months.

COVID-19, the virus that made the world stand still, the invisible determining factor of the new future, is constantly changing and evolving, and the world must change and evolve with it. Viruses like this, with the world globalised and interdependent like today, have the chance of creating more havoc than plagues of the past, yet it has been scientific breakthroughs and working together for the most part that has curbed the dangers thus far. It would take a week of complacency, a moment of distraction, for the wildfire to spread through families, communities, and economies, undermining the immense work that has already been done. It takes the involvement, corporation, and patience of each individual person wherever possible to ensure that danger subsides and normalcy can return.

MFR urges all our readers to stay up to date on developments, to get your full doses of vaccines and booster shots, and to practice the safety measures of social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, and constantly testing.

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