Omicron and life with the ‘new normal’ - GulfToday

Omicron and life with the ‘new normal’

Health experts say Omicron's rapid spread may impede normalization process of everyday life.

Health experts say Omicron's rapid spread may impede normalization process of everyday life.

Despite the onset of the Omicron variant and the alarm over it, there are some positive signs. Governments worldwide are easing quarantine rules, reviewing coronavirus curbs and pushing back pandemic-era emergency support as they bid to launch their economies back into some version of normality.

The key word here is ‘normal,’ as no one wants the ‘new normal,’ which under the circumstances would mean life with the coronavirus or its mutants. The moves to ease curbs are seemingly motivated by the lower severity of the Omicron variant and the need to keep workers in work and the global recovery on track. This has generated a whiff of optimism that has lifted oil and stock prices.

Health experts say the variant’s rapid spread may yet herald a turning point in the pandemic. However, they add, much depends on how authorities manage ongoing vaccination rollouts and balance other health measures still needed, while persuading their citizens not to throw caution to the wind.

In the Netherlands, hairdressers and gyms reopened in a partial lifting of a lockdown despite record numbers of new cases.

That lockdown was already something of a rarity, with most Western countries well past that stage and focused on how to safely open up further.

Around half a dozen countries have cut quarantine times from 10 to five days, citing Omicron’s faster infection cycle as grounds to loosen rules that have led to a wave of worker absences hitting businesses. Omicron’s ability to rifle quickly through a population without causing a proportionate rise in hospitalisations and deaths even prompted Spain’s prime minister to suggest it be treated akin to an endemic illness like flu.

While few are using that specific word, policymakers whose priority now is to wean economies off the cheap money fuelling inflation have started to depict the coronavirus as something businesses and households must learn to live with.

“What we are seeing is an economy that functions right through these waves of COVID,” US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week. The rosy economic picture is also predicated on vaccination campaigns at sufficient levels to limit serious illness.

That means ramping up access to shots in the developing world as wealthier countries focus on the boosters that widespread evidence, including hard data from Italy and Germany, shows offer significant protection against the risk of hospitalisation, intensive care and death.  And while the belief that the global recovery can live with Omicron may be expedient, it may yet run up against the hard facts of epidemiology.

Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said US and Japanese studies showing that more than 30% of cases remain highly infectious after five days suggest moves to relax quarantine rules could backfire. The warnings emerged as nine new cases of the more transmissible Omicron variant were identified in England, bringing the total to 22.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that travel bans will not stop the international spread of Omicron, while health secretary Sajid Javid admitted that cases of the variant will continue to rise in the UK. There is something more. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that 150 million Europeans are unvaccinated. That could affect their chances of immunity to this variant.

That probably explains why virus cases remain high in Europe, with politicians on the continent poised to debate making COVID vaccinations mandatory.

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