Opinion | We Got a Head Start on Omicron, So Let’s Not Blow It - The New York Times
Par Zeynep Tufekci
There’s very little we know for sure about Omicron, the Covid variant first detected in South Africa that has caused tremors of panic as winter approaches. That’s actually good news. Fast, honest work by South Africa has allowed the world to get on top of this variant even while clinical and epidemiological data is scarce.
So let’s get our act together now. Omicron, which early indicators suggest it could be more transmissible even than Delta and more likely to cause breakthrough infections, may arrive in the United States soon if it’s not here already.
A dynamic response requires tough containment measures to be modified quickly as evidence comes in, as well as rapid data collection to understand the scope of the threat.
The United States, the European Union and many nations have already announced a travel ban on several African countries. Such restrictions can buy time, even if the variant has started to spread, but only if they are implemented in a smart way along with other measures, not as pandemic theatrics.
Mr. Biden’s ban has similar problems — it won’t even start until Monday, as if the virus takes the weekend off.
That’s pandemic theatrics, not public health.
The reason we can even discuss such early, vigorous, responsible attacks on Omicron is because South African scientists and medical workers realized it was a danger within three weeks of its detection, and their government acted like a good global citizen by notifying the world. They should not be punished for their honest and impressive actions. The United States and other richer countries should provide them with resources to combat their own outbreak — it’s the least we can do.
Tragically, one reason South Africa put in place the advanced medical surveillance that found the Omicron variant was to track cases of AIDS, which continues to be a crisis there.
The antiviral cocktail that turned AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic condition was developed by the mid-1990s, but pharmaceutical companies, protected by rich nations, refused to let cheap generic versions be manufactured and sold in many poorer countries — they even sued to stop South Africa from importing any. Millions died before an agreement was finally reached years later after extensive global activism.
The callous mistreatment of South Africa by big pharmaceutical companies continued into this pandemic. Moderna, for example, has run some of its vaccine trials in South Africa but did not donate any to the country or even to Covax, the global vaccine alliance, until much later.
Wealthier nations must provide financial support, as well, for nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as improved ventilation and air filtering, higher-quality masks, paid sick leave and quarantine.
All this requires leadership and a global outlook. Unlike in the terrible days of early last year, we have an early warning, vaccines, effective drugs, greater understanding of the disease and many painful lessons. It’s time to demonstrate that we learned them.