20210923 UAE; mask; COVID-19
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2022 begins just as ominously as 2020 did. All because of a tiny virus. And just when doctors, scientists and medical researchers were beginning to take stock of it, along came the Delta variation of the virus that spread faster than the original virus.

Across the world, countries began reeling from the effect of the virus and the Delta variant, and the call for vaccinations became more urgent. First, it was one shot of the vaccine, and then came another. People began to relax, seduced by the feeling that somehow all was going to be OK and there would be no more threat.

But then comes the Omicron strain, one that apparently spreads faster than the previous two strains, and has all but blown out any feeling of safety in this growing mad world of viruses and vaccines. Countries took an immediate stand by blocking flights from several African countries, but somehow the pesky virus eluded them and now has spread to virtually every corner of the globe.

More on Omicron in op-eds

Headlines today in the US that the daily Covid cases are the highest they have ever been. And while many Americans have been vaccinated with two or more doses, many others have chosen not to take any, and according to reports most who end up in the critical unit cares in hospitals are unvaccinated individuals.

Increasing spread of the Omicron

The White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci stated on CNN Monday morning that ‘Americans should cancel their New Year’s Eve parties due to the increasing spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, as they struggle to find some normality as the pandemic wraps up its second year.’

Across the GCC, the growing threat of the virus has not been ignored. In the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, urged all Emiratis and residents to comply with all Covid-19 protocols.

“According to experts and specialists, the pandemic comes in waves. However, the new strain is less harmful to human beings though it spreads faster than other variants. Therefore, we have to exercise caution because infections may increase, but God Willing and thanks to the determination of all stakeholders and their collaboration, we will survive the new wave,” and follow all regulations from the health and other departments concerned “to ensure the safety and well-being of all UAE families and society,” he stated.

In Kuwait where already the new strain has begun to spread, the government has imposed new travel restrictions to contain the spread of the Omicron. Incoming passengers would be required to conduct a PCR test within 48 hours before arrival and stay in home quarantine for 10 days without exception.

Booster dose of approved vaccine

In order to end the quarantine, they must conduct a PCR test after 72 hours of quarantine, the spokesman said on Twitter. And starting from Jan. 2, 2022, if nine months have passed since the second dose of vaccination, the person is considered not fully immunised and cannot travel unless he or she takes a booster dose of approved vaccines, it said.

In Saudi Arabia which had recently witnessed a slew of events that drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands, the reported new cases have risen dramatically. So much so, that the government has implemented the following immediate steps to confront the threat.

Beginning the first day of 2022, the first measure taken by the authorities was stopping the Riyadh season which was one of the Kingdom’s showcases to the world, and cancelling all further events. This was followed by the suspension of all recreational activities and events for a period of 30 days, subject to extension.

Also, the authorities have ordered the closure of cinemas and indoor entertainment centres for a period of 30 days, subject to extension. Meanwhile, the drive to ensure compliance with vaccinations has become more and more stringent as proof of having taken the vaccine doses is required for entrance to all government agencies, businesses, and establishments.

The brief respite we have had in recent months from the threats around us seems to have vaporised as protocols to combat the growing spread may become tighter in the next few weeks, bringing back the distasteful memory of curfews and lockdowns and isolation once again along with economic slowdowns and business shutdowns.

Perhaps we can blame ourselves for not taking the threat seriously and exercising extreme caution. Or maybe two years of the pandemic made people feel that enough was enough and they wanted to return back to normality. The doom and gloom of losing a relative or a friend to the virus have practically touched everyone, and people had to venture out for some cheer.

But whatever it is, one thing seems to be certain. This pesky virus is simply not just going to go on its own. We have to stand guard, follow protocols and collectively and battle the challenge.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena