If you, or someone you know, have caught the COVID-19 virus for the second, or even the third, time, don’t be surprised; it is not an exceptional case. According to experts, the current dominant coronavirus strain, Omicron BA. 5, may infect the same person again and again.
The coronavirus is one of those viruses that will remain with us. That has been established. It simply refuses to go away. Did you know that France registered more than 170,000 new cases on Friday? Nearly a million cases were recorded worldwide on that day.
Many countries have decided to stop counting new cases and removed all COVID measures. Almost all countries don’t require a PCR test for flying out these days. Face mask-wearing is no longer mandatory in majority of countries. Does that mean that COVID-19 is gone? Absolutely not. It means basically that countries have decided to move on — to avoid a prolonged disruption of life and minimise the economic impact especially when recession fears, inflation, and the Ukraine war have hit the markets hard in the past few months.
An international collaborative effort is needed to deal with the spike in BA.5 cases, with the same urgency that allowed humanity to overcome the original outbreak.
Coronavirus reinfections are on the rise worldwide. In many cases, people infected months ago, in some cases just a few weeks ago, are catching the virus, again, and again. World Health Organisation (WHO) experts say your previous infection no longer protects you from BA.5. This Omicron sub-variant, first seen in South Africa in late February this year, is being described as “the worst version” of COVID-19. It is a smart virus, smarter than Delta and the original Omicron in its ability to evade immunity. Its transmissibility is much higher. Most probably, it is the most transmissible version of coronavirus yet. Those who managed to escape the virus in the past two years may not be able to get away from this version, WHO scientists warn.
Australian media have been reporting that an increasing number of people who had been infected are developing a second infection, four or six weeks later. In the United States, data published by the Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) last week shows that the BA.5 variant has become the dominant strain in the country — approximately 54 per cent of the current cases. The average daily count of cases in the US these days is a steady 100,000. The CDC has designated both BA.5 and BA.4 as ‘variants of concern’, which means they are more dangerous than your average virus.
Why you shouldn't ignore the variants
The Omicron variants, which were first discovered in South Africa also late last year, tend to be milder than the Delta, the notoriously deadly variant that took centre stage early 2021. But the sheer number of infections, due to their high transmissibility, can cause serious disruption of life, the kind of disruption that countries are trying to avoid.
But the consequences of just ignoring it can be grave. The world has already lost 6.4 million lives to the coronavirus. It is understandable that governments worldwide try hard to recover economically, from the fallouts of the 2020 catastrophic outbreak, but the Omicron variants seem to have the ability to put the brakes on the recovery process unless something substantial is done to mitigate the risk. And in the same way as the original virus was handled, no country can do it alone.
An international collaborative effort is needed to deal with the spike in cases, with the same urgency that allowed humanity to overcome the original outbreak. That may be challenging today, with the war raging in Ukraine, which takes most of the attention of the US and the European Union.
But if Sri Lanka can offer lessons, the potential impact of another massive outbreak can lead to social and political unrest in many countries that lack the ability, on their own, to deal with another economic crunch caused by the resurgent virus. The WHO, despite its documented shortcomings in the early months of the pandemic in 2020, can still lead the global efforts to stem the risk of the highly transmissible Omicron variants. (On the personal level, you can protect yourself and those around you by simply following the basic practices that worked the first time — wearing face masks outside, avoiding crowded places and continuing to use sanitisers. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of these simple practices.)
One of the many hard lessons of the coronavirus pandemic is that it turned our lives upside down in a matter of days. The change was quick and enormous. I don’t think life can ever be the same again. We have a chance today to pre-empt the looming risk of the resurgence of this menace. Unfortunately, the world seems relaxed and even complacent in dealing with the outbreak of the new variant. It is a milder version of the previous ones; that is true, but the sheer number of infections has the potential to overwhelmed health systems again if the virus left unchecked.