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EDITORIAL: Just as life seemed to be returning to normalcy in most parts of the world, a new and possibly more virulent variant of coronavirus, Omicron, has emerged. First detected in South Africa on November 24, a few cases of Omicron have been reported in Britain and the European Union countries and closer home in India as well. Not much is known about it yet; early signs though suggest it is more severe and transmissible than the previous strains of coronavirus.

In South Africa, for instance, there has been four-fold increase in infections since the variant was discovered a few days ago, alerting other countries about it. The World Health Organisation has termed Omicron “a variant of concern”, warning that it poses “high infection risk”.

European countries having experienced devastating consequences of the first two, in some cases three, waves of Covid-19, Britain recently convened an urgent meeting of the G-7 health ministers to discuss developments related to Omicron variant. Belatedly realising that they have more to gain from global cooperation regarding vaccine access and distribution this meeting of the advanced countries’ health ministers reiterated what was described as the strategic relevance of ensuring access to vaccines, tackling vaccine misinformation, and supporting research and development.

Meanwhile, several countries have imposed restrictions on travel to South Africa. Pakistan has also imposed a ban on travel to and from six African countries as well as Hong Kong. However, as Federal Minister Asad Umar, who also heads the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), averred at a recent presser, the world is so interconnected that it is impossible to stop Omicron; it will inevitably come to Pakistan. After its meeting on Thursday, the NCOC issued a statement, urging provincial governments to speed up the vaccination drive, the only way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus variant.

On its own part also, the forum decided to strictly implement obligatory vaccination. For those who have already received two jabs the process of administering a third booster shot is already under way. And to better prepare for the variant raising the spectre of another outbreak of Covid-19, additional oxygen plants are to be installed in different parts of the country with a focus on far-flung areas facing logistical problems.

No less important is the need to remind the people that the deadly threat of Covid-19 is not over yet; and that, unlike many tend to claim, it remains a clear and present danger. Public awareness campaign, stopped for some inexplicable reason, should be re-launched highlighting the benefits of social distancing and hand washing.

Governments in the provinces ought to ensure implementation of the SOPs, making it mandatory for people to wear facemasks while entering shops and other public places, and limiting the size of indoor gatherings for weddings and other functions as well as in buses and trains. The sooner they act the better.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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