Omicron didn't need to be this damaging

Failing to build resilience and learn from previous waves is once again fuelling the pandemic

Christmas shoppers in the UK. The country is preparing for a restricted festive season. PA
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On April 12, 2020, White House health expert Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN that more American lives could "obviously" have been saved if the US had had a better Covid-19 response. On Sunday, a year and a half later, he said the Omicron variant is “raging around the world”. With a different president in office, and despite vaccines and new treatment methods available, Dr Fauci is still unable to address his country, one of the most powerful on earth, with optimism.

The cyclical nature of his announcements point to a major international failing: after two years of Covid-19, many countries, particularly rich ones, have still not learnt important lessons.

Allowing new strains to run amok poses huge dangers for countries that, through no fault of their own, are not being given enough vaccines. In an exclusive interview with The National, Leif Johansson, the chairman of Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, said that hoarding doses is a major impediment to forming a global response to the pandemic. Specifically, Mr Johansson highlighted the negative impact it is having on Gavi's Covax programme, which works towards securing equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The way out of this unacceptable cycle is equal vaccine distribution and good governance. The two are as important as the other. Plenty of countries with high inoculation rates are witnessing a surge in cases, due to a wider ineffective government response.

And yet, others with lower rates are managing the pandemic impressively. Having suffered a great deal from Covid-19, this summer Tunisia quickly implemented a rapid inoculation campaign, helped by a donation of 500,000 doses from the UAE.

A success of this nature shows what can be achieved in the fight against Covid-19 if governments learn lessons at home, and, in equal measure, learn that international co-operation and fairness is the answer – not vaccine nationalism.

The reluctance of some wealthy countries to learn is also testing political systems and societies. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is unravelling in the face of accusations that Omicron is being dealt with incompetently. The Netherlands is entering a new, deeply divisive lockdown. Israel has banned travel from a number of countries, including the US, Canada and the UK.

The situation with Omicron is now so bad that there is a need for renewed caution. Targeted, more subtle protective measures are justified, and countries such as the UAE are taking them. Abu Dhabi has introduced scanners that check for signs of Covid-19 infection on its border with Dubai. Booster programmes too are quickly progressing and Expo 2020 has announced further precautions.

But many countries are failing to adopt agile measures or react quickly enough. As cases soar yet again, global resilience seems a long way off. But it is never too late to start, even from a low base. Only then can Dr Fauci be sure that he will not be delivering the same bad news at the end of 2022.

Published: December 21, 2021, 3:00 AM
EDITORIAL