When will we see understand that we are indeed a global village? Omicron may be a rude awakening. Once again, the coronavirus pandemic has rejuvenated itself and emerged in a new form discovered in Southern Africa. People across the globe are worried if this new variant will enact another wave worldwide. Any novel variant is a cause of concern because the virus can spread worldwide, just like the first wave, which originated from Wuhan, China. Another coronavirus variant undermines vaccines and may make them obsolete.
Scientists are then forced to research to create another vaccine, which can take months before the World Health Organization approves a dose to be used. Dubbed the deadliest variant, ‘B.1.1.529’ was first picked out in Botswana and South Africa’s capital, Pretoria [Source]. It was reported that a group of students whose number is not mentioned “took PCR tests which all contained an anomaly that prompted experts to send their samples to Prof de Oliviera’s Durban laboratory for genome sequencing.” At the lab, Prof de Oliviera’s team “then found all these mutations. So we’ve only known about it for a few days, and because it’s a new variant we have no idea how it will behave”.
Prof Salim Karim, former chair of the South African government’s Covid advisory committee, said, “All we can do is extrapolate some of the likely behavior based on previous similar mutations. But we do know that it spreads fast – we’ve seen how rapidly it spread in Pretoria. It sky-rocketed”. Positive cases in the African country surged drastically during this week, and stats show that the cases shot up from 700 on Sunday to about 2 500 on Thursday. This was attributed to the new variant, which is highly contagious.
Health officials are hoping that this new variant will inspire a lot of people to get vaccinated because there was intense resistance about getting jabbed. Because of this resistance, South Africa has an estimated 42% of people who have received one jab and only two-thirds of citizens over 60 who have been vaccinated. Such stats mean the population is miles away from being immune to the deadly pandemic. The South African government said, “Let us crush the power of the new variant by vaccinating to limit the number of mutations.”
“It’s going to be a shock to the system. I think it can have a positive effect [on vaccination rates],” as noted by Stavros Nicolaou, a senior executive at Aspen Pharmacare Group. Nicolaou explained that “We know this variant is more contagious. I sense that the current vaccines are likely to reduce morbidity, and they might not be as effective in preventing people from getting infected. All the more reason, if you’ve got a more contagious variant, that you should go out and get vaccinated.”
The World’s Reaction to the New Variant in Southern Africa
After pinning all hopes on the rolled-out vaccines, it seems like the world’s efforts regressed due to the B.1.1.529 variant, which has scared many governments across the globe. The other concern is that it has started in Africa, where many people were not vaccinated due to a lack of vaccines and shortages of resources. It is also a continent that feeds the European countries with many migrants looking for greener pastures and vast students who wish to study abroad.
A pandemic can be deadly when it affects the developing world, as we saw with Ebola in the previous years. Now we have Botswana and South Africa, which are hit first by a novel variant. And people are asking, ‘Will The New Covid-19 Variant in Southern Africa Hit the World?’ The answer to such a question can be deemed an obvious ‘Yes’ considering that an outbreak in Asia spread to Southern Africa and all over the world.
Nobody can argue against covid-19’s ability to reach all ends of the earth in our global village because we are connected. Also, intertwined economies, migrants, and family members living in different parts of the world are likely to spread the virus. To some extent, it is impossible to curb this.
In response to the new variant, UK health secretary Sajid Javid said, “As part of our close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant. We are taking preventive action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and we are monitoring the situation closely.”
Part of the preventive measures he talked about involves putting South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe on England’s red list [Source]. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) analyzed the variant. It said, “This is the worst variant we have seen so far” because it has over 30 mutations, and this is twice as many as the Delta variant. UKHSA said these mutations “could potentially make it more transmissible and evade protection given by prior infection or vaccination”. Due to the havoc caused by the Delta variant in Europe, B.1.1.529 seems more deadly.” and the UK might increase travel restrictions from people coming to the red zone areas.
The European Commission raised red flags on the spreading nature of a new variant. It urged all European Commission members to “activate the emergency brake on travel from countries in Southern Africa and other countries affected.” President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, also added that “All air travel to these countries should be suspended” [Source]. “They should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant,” as noted by the president, and all “travelers returning from these regions should respect strict quarantine rules.”
The EU seems to call for closure on borders to prevent people from spreading the virus from abroad [Source]. Stock markets have been dropping worldwide after the announcement of the variant. Belgium had its first case of the new variant in a person coming from abroad who was not vaccinated, and this is going to prompt Europe to lock its borders.
Prof Tulion de Oliveira, a Durban-based scientist, argued that “The world should support South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it.” He explained how his country has been “very transparent with scientific information. We did this to protect our country and the world despite potentially suffering massive discrimination”. He pleaded with “billionaires and financial institutions” to assist affected countries because of the economic meltdown to be incurred due to travel restrictions.
Europe is very influential, and its decision to suspend traveling to and from Africa is likely to be implemented worldwide. Still, it cannot afford to ignore this variant because, in a global village, it will probably spread if effective methods to stop it are not found.