Don’t isolate and punish countries with Omicron virus
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Dear Editor,

POOR countries should be rewarded for quickly disclosing their COVID cases, particularly the deadly Omicron (figures or studies are not readily available on how deadly) and Delta.

It will be recalled that China was severely criticised for not being forthcoming on the number of COVID-19 cases and its origin. The virus outbreak was in November 2020, although some scientists feel it emerged earlier.

The virus has now become pandemic.  When India was transparent and provided full access to its cases in April/May, it was severely criticised for giving away vaccines rather than saving them for its population to combat the virus. No one bothered to mention the number of lives India saved globally by sharing vaccines. Yes, India should have saved vaccines for her population the same way the developed western countries did and forsake the rest of the world. Then what would the critics have said – India was selfish – their description of the wealthy countries. If India had not shared tens of millions of vaccines, then many, many more people would have died. Isolating countries is a punishment for their transparency. It will become a disincentive to report their cases or the presence of Omicron.

Omicron has been found in several other countries besides southern Africa. It was found in The Netherlands before it was found in South Africa. Germany and Belgium also found the virus before South Africa. The virus was present in several countries.  It may not have come from South Africa. The UK and the U.S. also have it, though we are not sure when it was discovered and there is limited information on contact tracing.  This suggests that the virus developed independently of contact. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany are not punished although their borders are largely closed. Other countries could also have the virus, but some of them lack the facilities to do sequencing.  Greater monitoring, surveillance, and contact tracing are needed.

The developed countries should praise and reward South Africa, Botswana, and other southern African countries for their openness and transparency in quickly informing the world about their COVID cases and sharing the information on the makeup (genetic sequencing) of the Omicron variant, just as India did with the Delta virus.  Instead of isolating these countries, the wealthy countries should provide them incentives – grants and development aid, testing kits, and sufficient vaccines to combat the spread of the virus. The virus poses a global risk. A coordinated system is needed to prevent the spread of the virus – testing and vaccines. Meanwhile, the developed countries should help the poor countries. They should donate more vaccines, especially to the poorer countries that have closed their borders in order to reduce the risk of more infections.

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram

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