Advanced countries must be proactive in COVID-19 fight
The world needs to be careful not to lose focus on the pandemic and new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variants. Even as the advanced world has decided to turn a corner, there is a requirement to be proactive. Have governments really learned any lessons? Many are still struggling with the pathogen ahead of what could be yet another wave — the third or fourth depending on past discipline.
America is reopening quickly after the rapid deployment of vaccines, even reaching the point of substantially easing social distancing rules and mask requirements. The tendency to act as if the pandemic is over is a mistake because of the continuing dire global requirements and what comes next in terms of the flu season. The Delta variant is also an ongoing issue.
This strain, which was first discovered in India, has been found across all continents. There have been a few cases in New York, for example. This highly contagious variant, although it has a lower death rate, rapidly spreads through populations. Even those who have been vaccinated face a chance of contracting the disease, however small. For those who are not vaccinated, the problem is more obvious.
The overall picture is that the Delta variant makes up part of another wave of the pathogen. In the Spanish flu epidemic 100 years ago, five waves of the disease occurred. However, COVID-19 is more aggressive than the Spanish flu virus and thus, even with better medical capacity and communications, there will continue to be outbreaks.
Many countries are going backwards in the struggle against the pandemic’s re-emergence. A dramatic rise in cases in Moscow and other Russia cities is leading calls for more mass vaccination campaigns for front-line workers. President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government do not need a virus crisis while trying to sell the Sputnik V vaccine abroad. Meanwhile, Japan is facing pressure over how exactly to hold the Summer Olympic Games, which are slated to begin in Tokyo on July 23.
In India, where the Delta strain first appeared, the cases may be leveling off in specific parts of the country, but the overall situation requires further vaccination, oxygen in key areas, and the continued closure of outside flight access. India’s situation may be blamed on the debate over whether the Delta variant was a mutation or not, which ate into precious action time by many governments and international stakeholders.
The appearance of mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus,” in patients who have recovered after being infected with the Delta variant is another worrying factor. Mucormycosis can arise as a result of the overuse of steroids when treating COVID-19 patients. One Indian doctor said that the pandemic “has precipitated an epidemic” in regard to this side effect. The likelihood of long-term illness among post-COVID-19 patients is still unknown in the long-term picture. Many are suffering from extraordinary fatigue and maladies. The medical systems in countries that are suffering from the Delta variant are rushing to get any vaccine, but market forces are hampering delivery.
East Asia had early moments of world-recognized success for various models of what would be termed “effective pandemic response.” While Western countries faced red zones and lockdowns amid soaring infection and death rates, accompanied by political shifts and anxiety in the Middle East, East Asian countries largely kept the pathogen under control. However, this region is suddenly facing a re-emergence of cases, while the US and Europe are deep into their vaccination programs.
Interestingly, who can give an injection in OECD countries determines the pace and scope of infections. In Japan, only medical doctors and nurses may administer doses. The US and other Western countries began with a similar rule, but city and municipal governments quickly expanded eligibility to include lab technicians, emergency rescue teams and even veterinarians.
Many countries are going backwards in the struggle against the pandemic’s re-emergence.
Dr. Theodore Karasik
Japan is applying the bubble concept as a way of holding high-capacity events amid social distancing conditions with the Olympics in mind. This covers hotels and event facilities, as well as transportation between them. The concept is smart and can be effective if protocol is followed. It has been used from Las Vegas to Abu Dhabi with a high level of success. This move by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is the appropriate way forward. Other countries that are continuing to suffer rising numbers of infections may find the bubble concept helpful as part of the reopening process. The Japanese government is hoping such a combination of measures will help other global sporting events go ahead in the coming two to three years.
There is a lesson to be learned here: From India to Russia and Japan, not to mention untold African and Latin American countries, it is necessary to coordinate quicker in the next round of infections due to new variants. Pathogen management is going to be a key factor, even as some countries achieve success with their efforts to distribute vaccine doses. But the crowded market for vaccines and the urgent requirement to vaccinate the entire world needs to be addressed in earnest. Advanced countries, if they haven’t learned it already, need to be proactive rather than reactive before discarding their masks.
- Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @tkarasik