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EditorialsEditorial: New strain, new stress

Editorial: New strain, new stress

Published: 30th Nov 2021 12:00 am | Updated: 29th Nov 2021 9:37 pm

A sense of gloom has come back to haunt the pandemic-weary world with a new and rapidly spreading coronavirus variant —Omicron — prompting fresh fears and leading to travel restrictions. At a time when the nations were hoping to get back to normalcy and revive their shattered economies, the new strain, first detected in South Africa and later found to have spread to many countries, has cast a dark shadow over the global economy. While it is justified for the countries to impose new travel restrictions to protect themselves against the potentially more contagious strain, classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), given the bitter experiences of the recent past, there is no need for panic and fear-mongering. India too has joined the growing list of countries, which have imposed new restrictions on international travellers. Scientists have cautioned they don’t yet know how severe the mutant will prove to be. More data is needed to study the nature and impact of the new strain and whether it is resistant to the present set of vaccines. Omicron has over 30 mutations in the spike protein region, making it the more dangerous variant with the potential to develop an immune escape mechanism. However, at this point, one thing that can be said with certainty is that vaccines are the best weapons to fight the virus and its mutant variants and that fully vaccinated people are largely safe from the risk of hospitalisation and severe infection.

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Seen as the worst peacetime recession since the Great Depression, the coronavirus pandemic has already caused an estimated global loss of $15 trillion while the vaccination disparity is creating an economic wedge as richer countries recover more quickly than the less-wealthy ones. For a country like India where full vaccination coverage is still a long way to go, the importance of precautionary measures and ramping up inoculation drive cannot be overemphasised. With a substantial number of people yet to be vaccinated, the possibility of resurgence still looms large. European countries, on the other hand, have reported a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 due to waning immunity and vaccine hesitancy. With fully vaccinated cases also contracting the new strain, there is a need for testing and tracking, along with precautionary measures. The emergence of the new variant confirms the warning of medical experts that Covid-19, like swine flu, could become endemic and cyclically affect the vulnerable population. All the expert bodies have stressed that vaccination remains critical, especially to protect groups at high risk of hospitalisation and death. Real-time data has shown that high vaccination rates also significantly reduce the strain on health systems. The emergence of Omicron shows that the pandemic is far from over and that Covid-appropriate behaviour is still critical for breaking the transmission chain.

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