Friday, December 31, 2021

Heading into another year of uncertainty

Almost like Groundhog Day, 2022 may bring a repeat of the last two years with further uncertainty and a reintroduction of further mitigations to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Two years ago today an article was published in the South China Morning Post bringing attention to an unusual number of people suffering from a form of pneumonia at a hospital in Wuhan, China. It was the first of several reports that focused the world's attention on Hubei province and a wet market that appeared to be the epicentre of a new virus.

Countries around the globe reacted differently as the details emerged with some, such as Taiwan and South Korea, imposing strict rules within days and imposing mask mandates, while others reacted far slower. Britain, much of Europe, and the US waited until March before acting, by which time the virus was circulating freely and forcing these countries to impose far more stringent rules and lockdowns.

Two years on, many of these same countries have failed to learn from the mistakes made in the early days and weeks of the pandemic.

Vaccination rollouts have certainly helped keep infections at bay in some countries such as Britain, France, Germany and the US. However, poorer unvaccinated countries have essentially become petri-dishes for new variants of the virus.

Variants have primarily emerged from unvaccinated populations were there have been few mitigations to control the spread of the virus; Britain [Alpha], South Africa [Beta], Brazil [Gamma] and India [Delta]. There have been other variants that emerged and faded from Epsilon through to Lambda and Mu. But Omicron which first appear to surface in South Africa and other African countries has woken up the world once again.

Omicron, or B.1.1.529, has been deemed 'milder' by some scientists. However, a significant number of individuals that contract it can still become ill enough to become hospitalised and even die. While the percentages are reportedly less than Delta, the danger lies in the fact that Omicron has been shown to evade vaccines far more readily coupled with the fact that the R0 is significantly higher, estimated at 5.

The situation may well turn out to be less serious as some scientists predict. However, failing to act swiftly could turn out to be disastrous for countries already suffering economically due to the pandemic.

Omicron certainly appears to be the most dominant variant in many countries. And anecdotally even countries that have so-far kept infections and deaths to a minimum thus far have seen a rapid spike in recent weeks.

South Korea has seen a rapid increase in both cases and deaths from COVID-19 since the middle of November despite high vaccination take-up, nearly 91% of over 12s. Nonetheless the total number of deaths stands at less than six thousand in a country of over 51 million.

To mitigate the spread, South Korea has imposed further restrictions such as banning unvaccinated individuals from bars, clubs, saunas, off-base gyms and karaoke bars and strengthening mask mandates and social distancing policies.

Nonetheless, while South Korea has imposed strict measures concerning masks and other social distancing rules, the country has, throughout much of the pandemic, been open for business; and the economy is booming.

In contrast, Britain has removed most mitigations concerning masks and social distancing. And while the wearing of masks are mandated in some situations, enforcement is weak with get-outs for those claiming to 'be exempt'; there is no such exemption in South Korea and other Asian countries. Vaccine passports are only required in a few venues in the UK while across Europe and in many Asian countries they are strictly enforced.

Indeed it very much appears Britain and much of the West are repeating the same mistakes seen at the beginning of the pandemic.

With cases and hospitalisations already rising in the UK, the new year may not be a happy one.

tvnewswatch, London, UK