Omicron

By Rotimi Fasan

It was in December of 2019 that the world first heard of COVID-19 even though nobody but medical experts in the part of the world directly affected by it in Wuhan, China, first called attention to it.

Then the voices of those we can now retrospectively regard as whistle blowers were muffled and, in some cases, silenced by those with the authority to act. Rather than pay heed to their warnings about the flu-like symptoms of COVID as something not to be ignored, especially as those who presented these symptoms tended to have a hard time recovering from them, Beijing spent more time trying to draw a curtain of silence on reports of the disease’s spread.

China has since had to face the wrath of the world and is presently under investigation as to what it knew before COVID-19 became the global killer it has since turned out to be.

This is in effect saying that COVID-19 has held the full attention of the world now for almost two whole years. There is every indication that the disease is not about taking its leave.

Which brings back the chilling reminder of those experts who had warned in those months after the disease evolved from a localised nightmare into an epidemic and later on a pandemic that is causing many to fear for the continued existence of humanity as we knew it.

The world might well brace up to the realisation, as those who ought to know have since warned, that the disease has come to stay. Which may explain the rapidity with which it has been mutating and assuming the complexion of new variants.

So far, five variants of the disease have been identified with devastating consequences for the world, the last of which has been coded B.1.1.529 or Omicron for easy identification.

First isolated in South Africa, this variant is said to be the most dangerous so far and the world, while not exactly acting soberly, has been taking steps to contain its spread. Borders are again being shut, while countries are cutting down the number of hours potential travellers need to have tested negative for the disease before embarking on any trip.

The measures are panicky and are reminders of the high sense of foreboding and fear of the unknown that characterised reactions to the spread of the disease in the early days. It seems the best most countries have been able to do as more cases of the latest variant are identified is to shut their borders to foreigners in the misleading belief that they are by so doing able to contain its spread.

This step has been compared to shutting the doors of a stable after the horse has bolted. By the time the veil of secrecy was taken off Omicron, it had spread to different parts of the world that are now running after but hardly catching up with it.

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The apparent foolishness of the steps being taken by most countries that are restricting travels from and into their borders, the ineffectual nature of these moves, is underlined by the fact that some cases of the Omicron variant have been traced to persons with no known travel history to parts of the world where the variant was first discovered.

South Africa, the country that first reported the existence of Omicron, has been rewarded with scorn and is being made to pay for the diligence of its medical experts and their promptness in communicating their findings to the rest of the world.

They were the first to be put on the list of countries whose citizens have been banned from travelling to Western countries. Which is rather ironic if not stupid considering how much time and money some of these countries have spent trying to prove that China held back information that could have helped global response in the early days of the disease in December 2019.

With the singular exception of South Africa, the rest of Africa, especially south of the Sahara, have been relatively spared the more devastating effects of the pandemic. The apocalyptic picture of mass death predicted by the Bill Gates Foundation have thankfully not come to reality.

This is not a result of any carefully planned programme of response. What seems obvious is that God seems to have reckoned that Africa lacks the wherewithal to withstand the devastation of such a pandemic. But neither the hospitals nor the streets have become outdoor resting places for tens of thousands of abandoned corpses.

But the streets of Europe and North America were at a time during the pandemic overrun with mobile morgues just as rivers and oceans have been transformed into quick burial places in Asia.

In all of this, however, Africa has been slow to respond. If anything, it’s been tales of lamentation about the unfair treatment it has been subjected to in the hands of Western countries that are determined to punish it for their own failure.

While it is true that vaccine apathy has been high in Africa, so has it been in many other parts of Europe and America. The pandemic has been a leveller of sorts in the manner it has brought different parts of the world into the common pool of humanity in terms of how they have responded to it without the guidance of science. This is where Nigerians belong.

Less than 12 million Nigerians have been vaccinated and the government seems to have resigned itself to taking a few half-hearted measures that are pointers to how it may have lost sight of what has to be done to halt the spread of the pandemic.

There is hardly any attempt to enforce the non-pharmaceutical protocols of COVID prevention. Nose masks are no longer in use, hand washing is now a thing of the past and any pretence to contact tracing has long been abandoned.

Even Abuja needed to be reminded that most Federal workers that were supposed to have been working from home were just receiving salaries for doing nothing. Just when they were asked to return to work, Omicron surfaced. What can we expect now?

Abuja as well as governors of the 36 states and the FCT need to move fast. Nigeria cannot afford another prolonged lockdown. That would ruin the economy. But in order for us not to get to that point, efforts must be made now to actively engage Nigerians on the need to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

Christmas is again around and many Nigerians will be travelling. What steps are being taken to ensure that as they move, they do not spread COVID around? There are no billions of naira or palliatives to be shared again, but there are some things we can yet do to protect ourselves.  

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