Covid-19 strikes back

MAY 2 — Just when you thought it had been defeated.   

After all, vaccination drives in Israel, the UK and USA appeared to be working well.  

Cases in Europe seem to have peaked and China has long been reporting virtually no Covid-19 cases, in Japan and Korea the virus seemed to be under control... so basically, all the major economies appeared to be well on the road to recovery.  

Countries were relaxing internal restrictions and cross border travel also looked to be taking off again.  

Everyone was looking forward to a Covid-19 free or Covid-19 lite summer and then, well, India happened. 

A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment kit walks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi April 27, 2021. — AFP pic
A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment kit walks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi April 27, 2021. — AFP pic

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India which had reported relatively low Covid-19 infections and death rates suddenly exploded into a sort of Covid-19 apocalypse. 

The situation in India seemed to go from a rather triumphant "India has defeated Covid-19" to "India has been thoroughly defeated by Covid-19" in days.  

And now with Covid-19 running rampant through the vast nation, there is a fear that we are dealing with a more deadly new variant of the virus. 

And even if the current variant circulating in India doesn’t prove to be significantly more deadly, as the virus spreads among India’s billions it becomes more and more likely a sinister mutation will emerge.  

Seeing India’s situation, other countries are once again tightening restrictions and ramping up border controls. 

Meanhile in the last few days, spikes in Covid-19 cases have been reported in Japan and Korea. Even Singapore which appeared to be virtually Covid-19 free has seen a new cluster emerge.  

It's a major setback and of course a tragedy for people who have to deal with sick and even dying friends and relatives.  

However, despite the grim news from India I have to say I remain somewhat optimistic about the situation.   

It is always darkest before dawn and well, even in Star Wars the empire may strike back but it doesn’t prevail.  

I don’t think we are destined for endless bouts of pandemic.   

Vaccines in the UK and USA have proven to be quite effective with deaths in the once hard-hit UK falling to virtually zero.  

And while there is talk of vaccine resistance, there is no proof of it as a widespread phenomenon.   

The Indian outbreak appears to be happening because vaccination rates are low. It is not clear if the Indian variant is much more deadly or virulent. 

The outbreak in India may be happening because the virus has finally reached a sort of critical mass in the country — reaching the bulk of the population for the first time. 

As it circulates widely across India, it seems to have buckled the under-resourced healthcare system and as oxygen and hospital beds have run out, deaths have increased dramatically.  

There is still hope that with more vaccinations and better distribution of oxygen, the situation in India will stabilise relatively soon. 

Brazil which went through something similar a few weeks ago appears to be recovering and meanwhile, places like Australia and New Zealand are implementing travel bubbles again. 

Singapore and Hong Kong too may yet get their travel bubble off the ground soon. 

Of course the road to normality won't be smooth and there will always be bumps along the way.  

To me, the biggest of these bumps — worse even than the situation in India — is the obvious inequality in terms of the vaccine roll-out. 

Israel, the USA and UK demonstrate the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work well but access to these vaccines outside the developed nations is paltry.   

Shockingly, the world's wealthiest nations are blocking moves that would waive the copyright for vaccines and allow countries around the world to produce cheap generic versions of the most successful vaccines themselves.  

This is truly an atrocity.   

And while I understand the business case for preserving vaccine copyrights and for incentivising pharmaceutical companies in this case combatting the virus takes precedence over corporate revenue.  

The companies involved can be compensated by their governments or even multilateral organisations like the World Bank for the revenue they lose from waiving their copyrights. 

Basically the best vaccines should be made cheaply available to all who want to take it anywhere in the world.  

In fact, governments of developed  countries ought to go further than waive copyrights, they should invest in generic vaccine production facilities in developing nations. 

This will cost only a fraction as much as the trillions that have been deployed as financial stimulus packages and only this will allow us to get rid of the spectre of Covid-19 as a global threat once and for all.  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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