COVID-19 is back in many parts of the world. It’s rising rapidly in the UK, Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, China, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand. The US is preparing for a fresh wave. To make things worse, Israel has said it has recorded a new variant in two cases, a strain that combines two sub variants of omicron- BA.1 and BA.2.
So far, the two cases reported in Israel have mild symptoms of fever and headache and the country’s medical chief says there is no reason to be alarmed since there is no evidence of any serious cases yet.
The worry though is very real in other parts of the world. Hong Kong is seeing the worst of COVID at the moment, with experts citing vaccine scepticism as a huge problem.
According to a piece in The New York Times, nearly 40% of Hong Kong’s population is not vaccinated and older people, who are more vulnerable, above the age of 70, are not fully vaccinated either.
In Europe, the main strain that’s leading to the spread of COVID appears to be BA.2. This along with the lifting of restrictions in many parts is causing a massive surge in infections. Cases in the Netherlands have doubled since lifting curbs on Feb. 25th.
The BA. 2 variant is supposed to be even more contagious than Omicron, and already accounts for 12% of cases that have been detected in the US.
It doesn’t help that COVID fatigue has truly set in, with many countries in the West doing away with restrictions and even now, with rising cases, there seems to be little appetite to impose new curbs. Germany and the UK stuck to lifting more restrictions last week.
The exception is China which has gone back to lockdowns in its ‘zero COVID’ approach — one that may not work with a variant as fast spreading as Omicron. Nevertheless, over 30 million people are in a tough lockdown in 13 Chinese cities.
In the UK, it’s the total opposite. There are actually no restrictions any longer. Face masks are not mandatory in public spaces and people don’t even have to isolate even if they test positive. This has to be the most hair brained policy of all. London’s Heathrow Airport, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. are dropping mask requirements
It’s no wonder that cases have dramatically jumped in the UK over the last week.
India on guard
This is why India needs to be on guard. Our cases are thankfully currently at among their lowest in two years. But the government has alerted states to be on guard.
One of the more baffling things though is why India is not opening up booster shots to all sections of the population. They “precaution doses” as they’re called, have just been opened up to all those above 60.
Government officials in charge of the vaccine policy have made no firm commitment as to if and when this will be extended to others, merely saying the science is being studied. Some parts of the world are on their fourth shot while we debate the third. There is no shortage of vaccines, so what’s the problem?
For those Indians who want to travel abroad, there is a new headache. Many European countries are insisting on the last COVID vaccine to have been given within a specified time frame.
Nine months is the common number and many Indians simply won’t meet this criteria any longer. What are they supposed to do? Most importantly, as cases remain low in India, isn’t this the best time to ensure vaccinations and boosters for all?
India handled Omicron well. But let’s not get complacent. Yes we have to learn to live with COVID but it is not simply a flu. Basic precautions can protect us and those vulnerable around us.