The remarkably swift response by the health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, to the emergence of a new coronavirus variant suggests that at least one member of the government has been paying attention, and is determined to avoid past errors. In stark contrast to the lackadaisical response to the original coronavirus – repeated, unforgivably, with the later emergence of the delta variant – action has been taken immediately to prevent, or at least delay, the arrival of the latest, highly worrying variant, B.1.1.529, or omicron as it’s been dubbed.
Imposing quarantine on visitors arriving from South Africa and surrounding nations is the minimum that needs to be done at this point. This will buy time, though the virus seems to have already made its way from southern Africa to Hong Kong, Israel and, apparently, Belgium. The signs are that it is outcompeting the Delta variant, and it may be more resistant to vaccines and treatments, though much remains unknown. The scientists need to do their research, and the drug companies will need to adapt the existing vaccines to combat the latest variant. The more time they have to prepare new defences against a possibly more deadly version of this disease, the better.
The task is urgent. Happily, the world scientific community and the big pharmaceutical companies have the capacity to do the work, and the world is generally better prepared than it was in the early, bewildering months of 2020. Individuals know what needs to be done, and many will already be adjusting their personal routines in the face of this fresh threat. Christmas plans, inevitably, will need to be revisited.
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