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Foreseeable Risk: Omicron Makes its Viral Debut

It has been written about more times than any care to remember. Pliny the Elder, that old cheek, told us that Africa always tended to bring forth something new: Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre. The suggestion was directed to hybrid animals, but in the weird pandemic wonderland that is COVID-19, all continents now find themselves bringing forth their types, making their contributions. It just so happens that it’s southern Africa’s turn.

On November 26, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Evolution (TAG-VE) was convened to assess the threat posed by B.1.1.529. Named Omicron, its emergence was reported by South Africa to the World Health Organization on November 24. While the Delta variant had continued to remain dominant, instances of this new infection had been recorded, with the first specimen collected on November 9.

Omicron’s debut brings with it a set of menacing questions. It has, for instance, a “large number of mutations.” Initial impressions point to a higher risk of re-infection relative to other variants of concern. It may have a growth advantage and spread more quickly.

This need not have happened – or at least, the risk of having such a new mutation would have been lessened – had solemn obligations to protect global public health been observed. Instead of ensuring global vaccine equity, a number of affluent countries have held up debates and filibustered their way to preventing waivers on intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVAX facility enabling the distribution of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries has been slow. Despite receiving support, in principle, from 41 high-, middle- and low-income countries last year, it had received little by way of contributions and almost nothing by way of interest by the time the report of the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness had been published.

In May, the Biden administration finally relented in accepting, albeit narrowly, an IP waiver. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections,” stated Ambassador Katherine Tai of the Office of the US Trade Representative on May 5, “but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

The response from Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was one of panic. The proposed waiver did not consider the “scarcity of highly specialized raw materials needed to produce the vaccine.” With Pfizer’s vaccine requiring 280 different materials and elements from 19 countries, the CEO warned that inexperienced and less competent entities would rush out to mount competition for those same products. Like a dragon guarding its treasure, Bourla suggested that any such waiver threatened “to disrupt the flow of raw materials.”

A statement from the German government also summed up the mood of the affluent detractors: “[T]he limiting factors in the [availability] of vaccines are production capacities and quality standards, not patents.” There was no substitute to sophisticated technology: “high-tech shots can’t be made at the local soap factory.”

The emergence of this new variant has all the makings of a nightmare pictured in redux format, though structural biologist James Naismith is confident that this was hardly “doomsday”. The US chief of infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, is also waiting to draw any conclusions. “Until it’s properly tested … we don’t know whether or not it evades antibodies that protect you against the virus.”

The WTO is keen to examine the variant and claims that a fortnight of studious examination is required. In what is bound to return with critical fury at some future date, it is urging caution of countries in terms of closing borders. Attention should be spent, instead, on enhancing surveillance and sequencing efforts “to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.” Traditional reporting mechanisms should be used, and field investigations and laboratory assessments made.

Certain countries are not waiting for the laboratory reports. The issue at the start of 2020 was one of speed, or, as it transpired, lethargy. Delays and hesitancy proved catastrophic. Like the movement of capital, the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread effortlessly.

US officials have accordingly announced that flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be prevented from entering the country on November 29. The UK has also blocked entry into the country from Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, save for UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents. “We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” explained the UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid.

The European Union has also imposed a temporary ban on travel from southern Africa.  “The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” stated a German Health Minister Jens Spahn. The European Commission has also encouraged Member States within the EU to “activate the ‘emergency brake’ on travel” from designated southern African countries and others affected. “All travel to these countries should be suspended,” insisted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “They should be suspended till we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant.”

Having full foresight and knowledge about the threat posed by such mutations, officials from the EU and the United States have again shown a selfishness in the field of vaccination policy that has served to endanger the globe, including their own citizens.

Ever slowly, the citizens of the world are coming to the realisation that such vaccines will always risk being imperilled in the absence of fair and equal distribution across the globe. Given the freedom to mutate in unvaccinated populations, more variants of SARS-CoV-2 will emerge to penetrate the protective shield.

 

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21 comments

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  1. Michael Taylor

    I’m a long way from South Africa but I live in a town dotted with the odd covidiot.

    Like the butcher I went to today (for the last time).

    I asked for two pieces of chicken, which he proceeded to pick up with his greasy fingers. I kindly asked him to put them back in the refrigerated display and give me two pieces untouched by his hand.

    He fancied an argument, as did I.

    I got my two pieces, but he won’t be getting anymore of my business.

    And some people wonder how Covid spreads. 🤦🏻‍♂️

  2. wam

    A great read Dr Kampmark,
    Money talks over social responsibility and common decency.
    The rich are so protective of it they are frightened of missing out.
    They hoard under the guise of passing on excess to requirements.
    Aust will donats astraz despite not renewing its production. How will that work?
    ps
    My family were in rural victoria and told us of the hoarding tactics of the city when busloads came out to empty the shops leaving locals stranded and forced to copy.
    The melb shops were replenished and re-emptied first and the cycle began again.
    Money begets greed and greed rules.

  3. Graeme

    Where are the purpose built quarantine facilities we should have had operational a year ago?

  4. GL

    We all knew there was going to be variations of Covid-19 popping up. The only thing that surprised me about Omicron is the fact that it is made up of multiple mutations in one package that can have unpleasant repercussions.

    What will Jes…I mean Scotty, do? We shall wait and see.

  5. Terence Mills

    “One Nation is not a fighter against discrimination. One Nation seeks to profit from it. It’s just a fundraising exercise for them. If you’re able to get vaccinated, and you choose not to, discrimination is the wrong word. You have freedom to make the choice but if you make a choice, those choices have consequences … Being held accountable for your own actions isn’t called discrimination, it’s called being, you wouldn’t believe it, a goddamn bloody adult. That’s right, being an adult. It’s putting others before yourself. And that’s what this country is supposed to be about.”

    Senator Jacqui Lambie

    You’ve come a long way, Jacquie

  6. wam

    spot on, Terence,
    PHON copied the loony tactic of allowing candidates to pay for their campaign with some generic posters.
    Pauline took it further by charging for any help with the campaign. The greens, under the bandit would follow suit, would they??

  7. New England Cocky

    @Michael Taylor: Nothing like a bit of positive financial pressure to make your point. I suppose a bit of secondary boycotting is out of the question?

    @Terence Mills: Thank goodness at least one feral MP is standing up for Australian voters (sometimes). The Only Nutters Party seems to be a charity in favour of the leader.

    @wam: The same thing happened in Armidale NSW, with locals rushing down to the single supermarket ….. where the already expensive prices were raised even higher.

    @Graeme: Noe that is unfair to expect Scummo to hold a hose or even a carpenter’s hammer … it’s all in the planning stage for the 2120 pandemic.

  8. LOVO

    Yesterday, here in the ‘Hill’, I was driving down the main drag when I came across protesters walking down the footpath. I pulled over to have a gawk. They were anti-vax protesters with signs and chants about freedom etc. After they had past I pulled out and went around the block to gawk some more, thinking here’s a lark. They then rallied around our towns War Memorial. I park again, still thinking here’s a lark, and listened to the speaker. She then proceeded with the usual commentary about masks, vaccine risks and freedoms that we have come to expect from this ilk. I was sitting in my car shaking my head and thinking ‘you dickheads’. But then the speaker likened the crowd to Diggers, suggesting that they were the ‘New Diggers’. I got out and started yelling How dare you dishonour the fallen and how they were being un-australian for dishonouring our fallen……the boo’s started coming… then the Bikies turned around and started saying stuff …..and I quickly left with Jacqui Lambie’ words running through my head.
    Poor fella my country

  9. Michael Taylor

    They were probably all Geelong supporters, LOVO. They are renowned for their idiocy. 😁

  10. Michael Taylor

    NEC, given that a shop two doors down in the mall had closed for a few days because they had an active case you’d think that the butcher would have used a bit of common sense. Or brains.

    Maybe he doesn’t have a brain.

  11. GL

    Michael,

    Could it have been misplaced and put in the window marked as sheep brains?

  12. Michael Taylor

    Not likely, GL. I don’t think his brain is large enough. It’s probably the same size as the brain of a duck.

  13. LOVO

    ….which is, coincidentally, the size of a Power supporters brains……boom, boom..tsk 😛

  14. Michael Taylor

    Are you jealous, LOVO? 😁

  15. Phil Pryor

    Chicken and protester gossip aside, this covid plague has barely started, with one way only to check it and fight for our time and health. Without vaccines and the wonderful work of positive, beneficial science, a tiny fraction of those shitskulls protesting would be there, for, they or their ancestors would be dead, stone dead, silent, of typhoid, cholera, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rabies, rubella, polio and especially smallpox. Idiots defy reality in ignorance of actuality, so modern. It will get worse and western well-off countries don’t care, with corporate profiteering swelling while poor counties have huge growing infection and death rates. It is greedy, short-sighted, self defeating. We can do better over time, but ignoring our poorer neighbours on this planet ensures our possible doom and discomfort down a short road. No person is an island..,(and they’ll soon be inundated, thanks to Morrison-like turds)

  16. Harry Lime

    Meanwhile,God’s annointed one,the scheming and plotting fake from self marketing,the one and only Liar from the Shire,having belatedly noticed everything going to shit,is hurling dead cats in all directions,hoping in vain to halt the inevitable head on with reality.Scotty is not looking at all well,and his coherence is suffering more than usual.It would be no surprise to see him finally crack up terminally in next week’s final sitting of Parliament.Perhaps he’ll resign to pursue a contemplative life, after all he’s got a lot to contemplate.I reckon the prayer meetings are getting a flogging,and I hear God’s not returning calls.

  17. GL

    Omicron = Lots of new flag waving and cries of “‘straya. ‘straya. ‘straya.” along with untold numbers of new bogan slogans and promises from Captain Craptastic.

    Harry,

    I’m also waiting for the almost inevitable explosion from Scummo as it all continues to pile up around him and swamp his non-existent capacity to be proactive.

  18. wam

    Michael, lovo is close to this port man’s brain but I have never met a geelong player or supporter with any brain power to match me. Indeed they have big heads but their cavity is so empty it echoes. Happily they have simple sam to keep the average iq to above 9. If they dumped their free seeking soccer style coach they would watchable.. Not by me but someone??

  19. paul walter

    While we in Adelaide discover the consequences of Morrison thuggery as it pertains to Covid- again.

  20. Max Gross

    Strap in, folks. Greg Hunt is STILL minister for health and Scott Morrison is STILL the PM so you all know how this new threat will unfold in Australia.

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