By staff Writer
As the COVID-19 pandemic moves to what many experts and government believe will be an endemic stage (it will be as consistent as the flu), the persistent surge of the Omicron variant is amplifying challenges facing governments in how to manage the outbreak.
A bewildering array of different policies from country to country, and even disagreement among health experts advising on the pandemic, is further complicating issues at a time when there are calls for more clarity.
But while governments adapt and adjust policies to suit their specific circumstances, straddling the tightrope of the delicate balance between protecting public health and safeguarding their economy is proving to be a monumental task.
At least there’s broad international consensus on one aspect; vaccinations.
Into the fray has stepped Pope Francis, who has excoriated vaccine sceptics, reprimanding them out for what he described as “baseless misinformation”.
“We have realised that in those places where an effective vaccination campaign has taken place, the risk of severe repercussions of the disease has decreased," the Pontiff said.
His statement is expected to bolster the global vaccination drive, which seems to be the one area of agreement among most governments as they apply different methods to suppress the spread of the Omicron variant.
However, countries remain poles apart as they attempt to keep their economies afloat in the face of this strain of coronavirus now agreed to be less severe than previous mutations, but is already having a noticeable knock-on effect on economies.
In many countries hordes of workers, including essential service staff, are having to isolate for varying periods as a precaution depending on national policy, for coming into contact with someone who has tested positive or displaying flu-like symptoms.
With concerns that this could snowball into a much more difficult issue to manage, governments are now relaxing their isolation requirements to ensure that service to the public and output from various sectors is minimised.
Managing the pandemic is also coming at a political cost for several government leaders, chief among them Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The embattled leader has been the subject of a series of scandals on serious allegations surrounding ‘parties’ or other form of gatherings of his staff in violation of his own government’s social distancing and lockdown laws.
It is also alleged that Mr Johnson himself might have had either known about, or more seriously, participated in those sessions.
This has resulted in an outpouring of anger against the Prime Minister as the rest of the public had to suffer the agony of not being allowed to visit loved ones - especially those sick and dying - because of severe restrictions on gathering imposed by Mr Johnson’ government.
An internal investigation is being carried out and the most recent allegation has been referred to the Metropolitan Police.
With this hanging over his head along with several other controversies surrounding his handling of the pandemic ranging from COVID contracts to internal party bickering over restrictions, Mr Johnson’s leadership is under severe strain.
Another high profile development, which has put a government’s handling of the pandemic in centre stage is the still-unfolding row in Australia between the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the international tennis star Novak Djokovic.
Mr Morrison who is facing federal elections this year is caught in the middle of a legal and political battle over whether or the tennis ace has violated the country’s strict measures that Australian nationals have been subjected to as he arrived for the Australian Open tennis tournament.
FOLLOWING THE SCIENCE
On the scientific front, the pandemic has also thrown up its own controversies and indications of hope.
In the most recent case, reports that a new variant combining elements of the Omicron and Delta strains are being challenged as inaccurate.
The supposedly new strain was attributed to the lab work of a scientist from Cyprus who has defended his assertion that it combines characteristics of the delta and omicron variants.
However, other scientists have dismissed his assertion and have speculated that the findings are a result of laboratory contamination.
Meanwhile, in a more encouraging development, researchers at the UK’s University of Bristol are reporting that COVID-19 loses 90 per cent of its infectiousness within five minutes of becoming airborne.
According to their findings, reported in the UK press, at below 50 per cent humidity – similar to the air found in an office – the virus lost half of its infectiousness within 10 seconds of becoming airborne.
At 90 per cent humidity – similar to a steam room or shower – around 52 per cent of particles remain infectious after five minutes.
This figure dropped to around 10 per cent after 20 minutes.