Updated: December 1, 2021 8:32:05 am
Countries around the world have begun taking precautionary measures against the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. The detection of this variant by South African medical authorities and their alacrity in passing on information about the mutants on the pathogen’s spike protein have given governments precious time to take safeguards. Responses have been far swifter compared to earlier this year when the Delta variant began to make its presence felt. There are indications that the world has learnt valuable lessons in preparedness from the nearly two-year-long confrontation with the virus. Even then, the variant has dispersed to several countries and authorities in different parts of the world are showing signs of panic. Some of the alarm is understandable. But given that the data about the variant doesn’t yet convey the magnitude of the threat it poses, the best recourse would be to remain unflinching about Covid protocols while the scientists and medical experts do their job.
Early reports from South Africa do indicate that though highly transmissible, Omicron’s symptoms are relatively mild but this is early days and the guard cannot be lowered. The knowledge on whether those infected with the new variant had comorbidities or age-related infirmities is scanty. There is anecdotal evidence of breakthrough infections caused by Omicron. But even Delta has shown that it can infect the vaccinated — though in such cases, it rarely becomes virulent. December 2021 is a distance from March 2020 — close to 50 per cent of the adult population in the country has received both shots of the vaccine and serosurveys have indicated that a high proportion of Indians have already been exposed to the virus. The extent of immunity this will confer against the new variant isn’t known.
So, while authorities have done well to bolster surveillance at airports, they must also make sure that there is no let-up in the general levels of testing and contact tracing. Covid control authorities in India would, therefore, do well to emulate their counterparts in South Africa — and other parts of the world where Omicron has found its way — with respect to genome tracing.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 1, 2021 under the title ‘Follow the science’.