Omicron could be fatal for us – or fatal for our faith in authorities
The Guardian Weekly|December 17, 2021
The emergence and rapid spread of the Omicron variant feels like a flashback to last year’s grim festive season when much of the world went into lockdown to avert the worst of the Alpha variant wave. But though the sense of eerie, impending doom feels familiar, the epidemiological and political situations are different from one year ago.
Francois Balloux

The Omicron wave represents a key turning point in the pandemic. But no plausible outcome looks particularly auspicious – it feels largely like a lose-lose deal. If if turns out to be roughly as severe as previous pandemic waves, it might normalise harsh mitigation measures and render the prospect of a return to post-pandemic normality fairly remote. If it turned out to be milder than feared, this could spell the end of lockdowns with Covid-19 on its way into endemicity. The cost would be a loss of trust in political and public health authorities, which may make it difficult to deal with future threats.

Omicron is a different beast to the Alpha and Delta variants, which emerged in the pre-vaccine phase of the pandemic and spread in largely immunologically naive populations. Their threat came from the increased ability to replicate quickly within their host and their higher contagiousness. Both variants were associated with higher hospital admission rates and deaths. However, neither variant was good at escaping immune recognition, although each could cause occasional “breakthrough infections” in immunised people, with high contagiousness allowing these variants to barge through the first-line immune defence.

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