Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata

Will the new year become the year of the Omicron? Probably it is early to say. But nonetheless, the new coronavirus variant, discovered few weeks ago, seems to be fighting hard to get a decent chunk of the upcoming year the way its predecessor, the Delta variant, managed to greatly impact a good part of 2021.

The reassuring thing though is that this time around most of the world seems prepared, some more than others of course. But the initial panic, caused by the sudden announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 26 November of the Omicron detection, has certainly eased in the past three weeks. Especially after health authorities in some countries saying that the booster dozes could very well mitigate the effects of this particular variant.

However, we are not out of the woods, not even close. Experts are yet to figure out completely the new variant. They admit they know little so far about its origins, effects and if it is deadlier or milder than Delta. But taking the massive spike in infections in some countries, such as the United Kingdom where cases have crossed the 100,000 mark daily for the past week, Omicron has obviously the ability to wreak havoc and disrupt the global economic activities that were starting to show signs of solid recovery since the second quarter of 2021.

There is a rule that the world must worry when Wall Street suits go for the mattresses. We saw that in the past two weeks as ‘safe havens’ assets such as the US dollar and gold rates went up.

Year-end review and the new year outlook

One of the things we in the media like to do at this time of the year, when the world prepares to say farewell to one year and welcome a new one, is to tell the readers what happened in the outgoing year and what to expect in the upcoming one. We call it year-end review and the new year outlook.

The things that made the headlines in politics, the arts, the economy, sports and so on. We usually have many things some time it is a challenge, and fun, to choose the ‘worthy’ ones that must be highlighted. Lately, the fun is gone. So is the challenge as Covid-19 has become the obvious main character in this series.

The pandemic has been the main element of influence on politics, the economy, the arts and sport. and still is. The English Premier League has cancelled serval games in the past two weeks due to the outbreak of Omicron. Thousands of US Christmas flights were cancelled on Thursday and Friday. Restaurants in major American and European cities have seen their Christmas reservation dip to a year low. A number of companies I know have gone back to ‘smart working’, mostly from home that is.

There are other things however that may grab the headlines in the new year. Mostly in politics and sports — the French presidential election is set to be held on 10 and 24 April 2022. US midterm elections, which could prove decisive to the rest of President Joe Biden’s time in office will be held in November.

In India, elections in 2022 will include election of the President, Vice-President and by-elections to the Lok Sabha (the parliament). Regionally, Lebanon’s general election are supposed to be held in March. And of course, the big news is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

New holiday system in the country

The UAE is expected to continue making headlines in the new year as the 50th anniversary plans are in full steam. We will start the year with the new holiday system in this country as we go to a half day work on Friday and off days on Saturday and Sunday.

The world will certainly get over the Omicron fear as it has done with the Delta in 2021. We will emerge and optimism will take over the current panic. But until then, Omicron will be the 2022 story, I think. It has all the elements of a dominating plot. In countries such as South Africa and the UK, the new variant has been spreading so fast the new cases have been doubling every couple of days.

The freighting thing is that those new cases include people who were previously infected or vaccinated. Omicron seems to have the ability to “evade immunity”, WHO experts say, in addition to its amazingly high transmission rate. These two characteristics make it so different and more worrying than the Delta and the other variants we saw in the past two years.

Will it make the pandemic worse? We don’t know yet. It is not clear if Omicron leads to more severe illnesses and hospitalisation. The data varies from region to another. But the US expects the variant to be the dominant reason for Covid-19 infections very soon with heavy toll this winter.

Thus, scientists are racing against time to understand Omicron’s specific characteristic and mutations. Some of those mutations seems extremely worrying as they “render the first generation of vaccines less effective,” experts noted. WHO says that Omicron may lead to less severe illnesses than Delta but the rate of infection is much higher than Delta’s, henceforth, placing more pressure on the health systems worldwide.

Therefore, I think the variant will be the dominant story at least in the first half of the year. Although, we feel better prepared for it. Vaccination is the key, particularly the booster dose. It is a must, especially in developing countries which were short-changed in the first round of vaccination by wealthy nations. Careful planning of reopening the economy will go a long way in checking the spread of the virus.

And of course, the mask. Don’t take it off for God’s sake.