A man sits on his window sill in Islington, London, as the coronavirus disease continues to spread in Britain. (File/Reuters)
As far as the coronavirus is concerned, here is a hard fact: the virus is showing no signs of going away. Covid has still got a “long, long way” to go and is “still very serious” despite some optimism the end is in sight in Europe, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on the virus said. Dr David Nabarro said “it’s as though we’re just passing the halfway mark on a marathon” and it is still not clear how long it will take to reach the end because of the way coronavirus “challenges and surprises”, the report said.
Clearly, clouds of doubt are casting a pall of gloom over the fate of the virus: it seems to be a formidable foe that can vanquish any human’s immunity – and thereby badly affect health. And yes, new variants could lurk in the shadows. Nabarro also criticised politicians and those who continue to make “amazing predictions” claiming Covid should be treated like the flu — while the WHO has said global governments “should not suggest to people” that the “virus has suddenly got incredibly weak”.
Covid is a “new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning,” he warned. “So for me, if the end is in sight, that’s good news. But it’s as though we’re just passing the halfway mark on a marathon and we can see that, yes, there is an end and the fast runners are getting through ahead of us.
“But we’ve still got a long, long way to trudge and it’s going to be tough,” the report said. It is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant, or the pandemic is going to end, when global conditions are seen as ideal for more Covid variants to emerge, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief on Monday.
Addressing the 150th session of WHO’s executive board, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Omicron, which was first identified in late November, has spread to 171 countries.
More than 80 million cases of the highly contagious variant have been reported to WHO, more than the Covid cases reported in the whole of 2020, he said. However, there is one positive sign: he noted that the “explosion in cases” has so far “not been matched by a surge in deaths”.
Ghebreyesus said that the pandemic is not going to end, rather new variants will emerge. “It’s true that we will be living with Covid for the foreseeable future,” said the WHO chief. Even as Omicron has been showing signs of peaking, some European countries are seeing the rise of Omicron subvariant BA.2, sparking concern among the scientific community.
There is also a new concern that has cropped up. Covid could affect the powers of the nose: may make you lose your sense of smell.
About 50 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 during the first wave of infections in 2020 may have long-term and even permanent changes to their sense of smell, according to preliminary research from Sweden.
From the early pandemic days, sudden loss of smell, or an impaired or distorted perception of odours, emerged as an unusual symptom of Covid. While some people recovered, for some the sense of smell never quite returned to normal. To explore, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm ran comprehensive tests on 100 individuals who caught Covid in the first wave of infections in 2020.
The findings of the yet-to-be peer-reviewed study showed that 18 months after recovering from Covid 4 per cent people lost their sense of smell entirely.
However, a third had a reduced ability to detect odour, and nearly half complained of parosmia — where the sense of smell is distorted.