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Omicron: Variants, mutations, and what the future holds

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Dec 02, 2021 5:18 pm

I couldn’t help but feel sad for the generations either born or have experienced the coronavirus pandemic. Young ones who have graduated with the clearest and brightest hopes on their shoulders now face the threat of a contagion that is not only virulent, but stubborn as hell.

One doesn’t have to be an expert in disease mitigation to know that COVID-19, with the way it metamorphoses into more virulent strains, will not let go of the world for the next 10-20 years. 

The influenza pandemic of 1918 lasted only for two years. But it killed an estimated 500 million people. 

COVID-19 mutates at every turn, and fixes its crosshairs on the weakest. The unvaccinated, too, if we were to go by the claims of frontline health workers. 

For if the vaccinated aren’t spared from infection, it is only safe to conclude that the unvaccinated faces a terrible risk of being wiped out. That’s the cold, unmerciful logic behind it, at the very least. 

The stigmatization of the unvaccinated, however, hardly helps in easing the pain of loss. 

After the tens of thousands blighted by the Delta variant, now we have Omicron. It’s the latest in a series of mutations which, by scientific claims, increased the virulence of COVID-19. 

After Omicron’s discovery by South African scientists, nations are now quick to close their borders and impose travel bans. It seems, however, that prior to its discovery, the Omicron variant had already spread far and wide, leaving traces of its footsteps in 20 countries thus far, not the least Britain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands. 

Officials have likewise detected the variant in the United States, albeit nothing is clear thus far. And as the number of Omicron infections records yet a very small number, it would be difficult to attach any level of virulence to the virus. 

This is not February 2020. We have tools in place, we have immunity in a significant part of the population. This is a concern, but we’re in a much better place.

Thanks to the South African scientists who isolated the new variant, experts are now being given a front-row seat to its faculties.

Research has so far revealed that Omicron exhibits mild symptoms. Whether this would prove advantageous to the race to create more efficient vaccines remains to be seen.

The mystery behind Omicron seems to be creating quite a scare. However, studies on the new variant suggest that, when set against “how it plays out in the real world,” Omicron seems unlike any posited on paper. 

According to Andrew Pekosz, vice chair of the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, said, "This is not February 2020. We have tools in place, we have immunity in a significant part of the population. This is a concern, but we’re in a much better place to deal with this and mitigate the extreme effects of this variant than we were at the beginning of the pandemic."

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s research assuages any hysteria that go with the appearance of the variant: “We don’t know if Omicron has the potential to evade any vaccines. Early data indicates that most cases have been in people who are unvaccinated.”

Pekosz said, in the matter of severity, that it’s too early to tell given the small number of cases they can work on. “We don’t know anything about disease severity in any substantive way. That’s something else that will come out as we see transmission occurring. We’ll be able to monitor for disease severity and make some assessments of how severe infection with Omicron is.”

How all this translates into an interpretation, or rather, reinterpretation of what the future may hold remains in the dark for now. Bold predictions on the matter of where this pandemic may be forcing civilization to go is pointless. After two years, the world still knows very little, not even enough to put the breaks on infections. 

As I write this, the last 14 days saw a total of 5.22 million COVID-19 deaths, with 263 million active cases. 

I’m no medical expert. I could no more offer a bold prediction than deadwood could ever hope to give on the matter of the virus. Current political conditions, however, are very alarming. 

If these are not quelled, we will all be looking at a future where the decision of the state goes unchallenged, and corruption unchecked.

With the appearance of COVID-19 came also the advent of authoritarian rule. Dictatorships are literally going viral. Let’s not even go to where some of the strictest lockdown protocols have turned what was otherwise a free nation into virtual concentration camps.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of dissing border restrictions as some Nazi takeover. I believe in health protocols, however strict, if these are manned by doctors, health professionals, and experts in disease control. 

My apprehension lies in the militarization of the COVID-19 response, and how this chips away at the rights and freedoms of people.

The virtual suspension of democratic guarantees, police brutality, dismissal of the Bill of Rights in favor of the “rights” of the State, the militarization of the bureaucracy as in the case of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 and the whole-of-nation approach: these are serious concerns.

If these are not quelled, we will all be looking at a future where the decision of the state goes unchallenged, and corruption unchecked. 

We are all aware that any program to mitigate the effects of the pandemic requires an obscene amount of wherewithal. If resources end up in the pockets of the violent and the corrupt, if vaccines never reach the people to whom they’re intended, if government fails in its responsibility to pay the wages of our health frontliners, we are setting ourselves up for a death sentence.

However, we are far from being helpless. The 2022 presidential election is just roughly eight months away. We have in our hands the one chance to make a difference, a truly dramatic difference by choosing the candidate who fits the job. 

Our health and the nation’s health are priority issues. No candidate can turn a blind eye to any of this in exchange for political conveniences. The role of the 21st-century leader is a call for compassion, empathy, and not the least, alertness in matters of health. 

We must choose a president who will be bold enough to make guns and goons a thing of the past. And we have no choice but to seize the day.