Endless pandemic? Asia's Omicron retreat shows COVID is political

Endless pandemic? Asia’s Omicron retreat shows COVID is political
© Provided by Al Jazeera Asia-Pacific countries have tightened their borders following the emergence of the Omicron variant [Dado Ruvic/ Reuters]

Hwaseong, South Korea – The rush by Asia-Pacific countries to slam borders shut in response to the Omicron variant has raised a sobering question: What if harsh restrictions like travel bans never truly end?

Scientists widely agree the coronovirus will keep mutating indefinitely, with new variants emerging periodically for the rest of our lives.

For Asia-Pacific countries that have retreated into isolation despite high vaccine coverage, that raises the prospect of a never ending cycle of economically and socially damaging restrictions on travel and daily life — unless authorities shift their thinking and learn to live with the virus.

A range of experts spanning virology, epidemiology, medical ethics and economics told Al Jazeera the “end” of the pandemic as far as it affected most people’s lives would ultimately be a political and societal choice.

“Instead of walking zombie-esque into whatever comes next… we need to probably stop and think about what are we defining as our endpoint here,” Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, told Al Jazeera.

“Right now we have a pretty well-vaccinated population in some parts of the world. Those parts of the world, especially those that have been freshly vaccinated, are as safe as they are going to be.”

Mackay said that while he disagreed with the more laissez-faire approach taken by many Western countries during the early days of the pandemic, the reaction to Omicron felt like a return to 2020 where “everything we talked about and I thought we had under our belt was just thrown out the window and started again.”

“My personal feeling is that we should not be closing the borders after this variant and after we’ve seen it through to see what the data tells us, unless this variant really is a lot worse than we think at first glance,” he said, adding that vaccinating poorer parts of the world remained essential.

Endless pandemic? Asia’s Omicron retreat shows COVID is political
© Provided by Al Jazeera Air travel in the Asia-Pacific is still down more than 90 percent compared with before the pandemic [File: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg]

While numerous countries around the world have banned arrivals from southern Africa, where the variant was first detected, Asia-Pacific economies that kept deaths low with border closures early in the pandemic have gone further and introduced sweeping restrictions on travel.

Japan last week banned all non-resident foreigners, delivering a boost to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s approval ratings, while Australia announced a pause of its planned reopening of the borders to skilled migrants and international students.

Hong Kong, which has a strict “zero Covid” policy that has frustrated foreign businesses and residents, has banned travel to non-residents from three dozens countries and mandated 21 days of hotel quarantine for returning residents.

Malaysia and Singapore have delayed the introduction of a number of quarantine-free travel lanes, while South Korea has reintroduced 10 days of quarantine for all inbound travellers.

Even before Omicron, the Asia-Pacific region was largely closed to travel, with airline traffic down nearly 93 percent in October compared with the same month in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association, far more than other parts of the world.

The World Health Organisation, which has designated Omicron a “variant of concern”, has criticised blanket travel bans, describing their role in preventing the spread of the virus as minimal compared with their “heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

Officials have stressed that too little is known about the variant to draw firm conclusions about its transmissibility, virulence or responsiveness to vaccines, although early data has indicated that most cases are mild.

‘Omicron is everywhere’

Roberto Bruzzone, co-director of the HKU-Pasteur Research Pole in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera the reaction to Omicron was unjustified based on the available data.

“I have been arguing for a change in perspective for quite a long time, saying that we need to learn to coexist with the new virus,” Bruzzone said.

Bruzzone said he hoped the region would not sleepwalk into a future that was permanently less open, free and inter-connected.

“It would be useful if the EU and US and UK and the Americas tried to steer the discourse away from the so-called Asian approach — zero COVID, border closure to foreigners, long quarantines for residents, etc.,” he said. “This is because the virus will re-appear whenever you open borders and even now, Omicron is everywhere.”

Catherine Bennett, a public health expert and epidemiologist at Deakin University in Melbourne, said divisions in public opinion and political calculations have created a “never ending cycle” instead of the middle ground needed to navigate the coming months in a measured, safe way.

Bennett said she favoured “dialling up and down public health safety measures when we have a signal that the virus may be changing, not slamming on the brakes”.

“That’s like a learner driver stopping every time they see a pedestrian step towards a curb, or a car pull up a little over the line at a cross road ahead,” she said.

Bennett said a realistic end point to severe restrictions could be when pandemic measures have become “so smooth and effective, that we are barely aware of the transitions between seasons and the vaccines are able to catch up to the variants”.

Endless pandemic? Asia’s Omicron retreat shows COVID is political
© Provided by Al Jazeera The World Health Organisation has criticised blanket travel bans [File: Laurent Gillieron/Reuters]

Alberto Giubilini, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, told Al Jazeera that societies had to make the choice to move beyond a state of “continuous emergency” that is more so a social and cultural phenomenon than a scientific reality.

“A pandemic ends when the virus becomes manageable and we learn to live with it,” Giubilini said. “But that depends more on how we act than on the virus itself. We keep treating certain things as if they were a scientific issue when they are not. The end of the pandemic is a process of political negotiation and, ultimately, an ethical issue. The pandemic ends when we change our approach to a virus that is likely to stay with us forever.”

Giubilini said societies never left the “emergency mode” they entered when they started imposing lockdowns in March 2020.

“We have become desensitized to the enormity of liberty loss and to the loss of meaningful life,” he said. “We have selectively focused on one single threat, which poses a serious risk only to a small and well-identifiable fraction of the population.”

MacKay, the University of Queensland virologist, said pandemics are political by nature and returning to life as normal would be a question that each country approached differently.

“You can’t tease apart the science and the politics and say this question is this thing and this question is that thing,” he said. “It’s all political and all scientific at the same time. It’s a mix and it’s a jumble because they involve the population of the entire planet and if you’ve got more than three people in a room you’ve got politics.”

News Related


KPM-KBS optimumkan penggunaan fasiliti sukan

© Provided by Sinar Harian SHAH ALAM -Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia (KPM) dan Kementerian Belia dan Sukan (KBS) akan mengoptimumkan penggunaan fasiliti sukan kedua-dua kementerian itu untuk pembangunan belia dan sukan ... Read more »

What are the new moves in Pokémon Legends: Arceus?

© Provided by Dot Esports Just like with any new Pokémon game, Pokémon Legends: Arceus added plenty of new Pokémon to catch, items to find, and moves to use. But ... Read more »

Cold wave conditions over northwest, central India to abate from February 2: IMD

© Provided by Zee News New Delhi: Cold wave and Cold Day conditions over northwest and central India are very likely to abate gradually after Saturday (January 29, 2022) while ... Read more »

‘Unfair': Gym owners in Delhi to protest today near L-G's office, demand reopening of fitness centres

© Provided by Hindustan Times There are around 5,500 gyms in Delhi and over 100,000 people earn their livelihoods from this industry. (Sanchit Khanna/HT file photo) Gym owners in Delhi ... Read more »

Where to find Upgrade in Pokémon Legends: Arceus

© Provided by GamePur It seems when an item in Pokémon Legends: Arceus is only effective on one Pokémon the rarer it is to come upon. This rule particularly goes ... Read more »

How to evolve Haunter into Gengar in Pokémon Legends: Arceus

© Provided by GamePur There are multiple Pokémon for you to find and catch in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. The more you add to your collection, the more Star Ranks you’ll ... Read more »

NeoCoV alert: Why you do not need to be worried and what original study on it says

NeoCoV alert: Why you do not need to be worried and what original study on it says From Alpha to Delta to Omicron, a bunch of Greek letters have suddenly ... Read more »

Best nature for Hisuian Growlithe and Arcanine in Pokémon Legends: Arceus

© Provided by GamePur Series favorites Growlithe and Arcanine got a bit of a rework in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. While their Kanto forms are purely Fire-types, Hisuian Growlithe and Arcanine ... Read more »

Mika Salamanca shows off nose after rhinoplasty surgery

FB: Mika Salamanca Mika Salamanca has taken off the bandages and showed off the result of her rhinoplasty surgery. The vlogger shared mirror selfies on Facebook eight days after her ... Read more »

Winwyn Marquez is pretty in pink as she flaunts baby bump

IG: Winwyn Marquez Winwyn Marquez is totally rocking that pregnancy glow! The Miss Reina Hispanoamericana 2017 queen just shared a mirror selfie on Instagram, and she’s blooming in pink. In ... Read more »

Edmonton mom wants answers after death of daughter with cancer: ‘She did not get the oxygen needed'

A 26-year-old registered nurse who was living with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer died unexpectedly and two months later, her family is still seeking answers. © Shayla Wishloff Registered nurse ... Read more »

Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota's longest-serving attorney general, dead at 68

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was reportedly suffering from an inflamed ulcer. AP / Tom Stromme BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has died at age ... Read more »

Saudis near Yemen border learn to live with Huthi fire

© Fayez Nureldine Saudis enjoy the views of the Red Sea from Jizan, a tranquil resort city that has been a frequent target for cross-border attacks from nearby Yemen Huthi ... Read more »

Police warn of potential for ‘lone wolf' threats as anti-vaccine protests converge on Ottawa

© AFP via Getty Images A convoy of truckers started off from Vancouver on 23 January 2022 on its way to protest against the mandate in the capital city of ... Read more »

Ashley Benson and G-Eazy Have 'Reconnected' Almost a Year After Split, Source Says

© Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images / Phillip Faraone/FilmMagic Ashley Benson and G-Eazy remain close almost a year after their breakup. The actress and the singer recently reconnected after the death ... Read more »

TV News Weekly RECAP: Mouni Roy-Suraj Nambiar get married, truth behind Shweta Tiwari's 'bra ki size' remark, Sidharth Shukla's family's statement and more

© Provided by BollywoodLife.com Mouni Roy, Shweta Tiwari, Shaheer Sheikh, Sidharth Shukla, Balika Vadhu, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Anupamaa, Aditya Narayan, Bigg Boss 15 and more made news in ... Read more »

Amanda Kloots 'needs some loving' in her life

© Bang Showbiz Amanda Kloots is looking for love Amanda Kloots “would love some love” in her life. The 39-year-old TV star lost her husband Nick Cordero to COVID-related complications ... Read more »

Michael Buble prioritises family over his music career

© Bang Showbiz Michael Buble is determined to put his family first Michael Buble will always prioritise his family over his music career. The 46-year-old singer – who has Noah, ... Read more »

'I got overconfident': Misbah on his scoop shot against India in 2007 T20 WC; 'I scored so many fours playing that shot'

The inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup in 2007 saw a dramatic finish as India lifted the title, beating arch-rivals Pakistan by five runs. Pakistan’s Misbah-ul-Haq handed an easy ... Read more »

Hrithik Roshan came in Maruti, I in a Mercedes, says Ameesha Patel on how she was called Bombay rich brat!

© Provided by Zee News New Delhi: Actress Ameesha Patel in her latest interview opened up on her initial days in the industry. She made her starry debut along with ... Read more »

'If you don't have something extra-special like Asif..': Ex-PAK captain issues huge warning to Bhuvneshwar Kumar

© Provided by Hindustan Times File photo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. (AP) Team India will return to action on February 6 when the side takes on West Indies in three ODIs ... Read more »

On This Day in 2020: Rohit Super Over Special Helps India Seal T20I Series in New Zealand

© Provided by News18 On This Day in 2020: Rohit Super Over Special Helps India Seal T20I Series in New Zealand India were 2-0 up in the five-match T20I series. ... Read more »

Rohit Sharma is excellent captain like MS Dhoni: Former WI skipper Darren Sammy

© Provided by Zee News Former West Indies captain Darren Sammy feels Indian cricket is in ”good hands” under Rohit Sharma’s leadership as he bracketed the senior India batter alongside the legendary MS Dhoni in their ability to get the best out ... Read more »

Calvin Harris 'loves getting his hands dirty' on Ibiza farm

© Bang Showbiz Calvin Harris lives on a farm in Ibiza Calvin Harris loves getting “his hands dirty” on his farm in Ibiza. The 38-year-old DJ lives on a 138-acre ... Read more »

BuCor demolishes 'kubol' inside Bilibid Maximum Security Compound

© Saksi Demolition of kubol inside New Bilibid Prison Maximum Security Compound. Saksi screenshot The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) on Friday demolished several “kubol” or huts inside the Maximum Security ... Read more »

Gavin Rossdale Celebrates Daughter's Birthday With Rare Photo of His Four Children

© ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images All of Gavin Rossdale‘s kids coming together for a celebratory occasion is more than enough of a reason for the Bush frontman to make it widely known ... Read more »

View: All colours are the navy blue of India

It was after seeing the legendary fashion photographer Norman Parkinson’s photos shot in India for British Vogue’s 1956 edition that the equally iconic style diva Diana Vreeland remarked, “How clever ... Read more »

Spotlight On Punjab's Majitha constituency As Bikram Majithia Stands Against Lalli Majithia, Jagga Majithia

© Sanstuti Nath | India.com News Desk All you need to know about Majitha Constituency New Delhi: Weeks ahead of the Punjab Assembly election 2022, the high-profile Majitha Assembly constituency ... Read more »

What 'user not found' means on Instagram

© Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images What ‘user not found’ means on Instagram If you see a “user not found” message on Instagram, it could be one of several issues with an ... Read more »

UP Polls Ground Report: Whiff of Cakewalk for Akhilesh in Family Bastion Karhal, Now a 'Most VIP' Area

The sleepy town of Karhal in the “VIP” Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh is set to become the “most VIP” one with Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav deciding to contest ... Read more »

Punjab Assembly Elections 2022: BSP's Mayawati to begin campaign on February 8

© Provided by DNA Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati will kickstart her campaign on February 8 for the Punjab Assembly polls scheduled next month. The BSP chief will address a ... Read more »

Rajasthan school reopening news: Offline classes to resume on THIS date, other Covid guidelines announced

© Provided by DNA Amid a decline in Covid-19 cases, the Rajasthan government on Friday (January 28) issued a guideline on the reopening of schools in the state. Schools will ... Read more »

Cyber police in Kashmir recover r₹r30 lakh from online scamsters

© Provided by Hindustan Times The investigation team was successful in tracing all the transactions in different online payment gateways which were being used to exchange into foreign currency and ... Read more »

Haryana eases Covid-19 restrictions for cinema halls, schools, colleges - Details inside

© Provided by DNA In order to control the spread of Covid-19 in Haryana, the state government had recently extended Covid-imposed restrictions till February 10, as per the HSDMA order ... Read more »

Beating Retreat ceremony: Delhi Police issues traffic advisory, shuts these roads for today

© Provided by Zee News New Delhi: Delhi Police has made elaborate traffic arrangements for the Beating Retreat ceremony which will be held at Vijay Chowk in the national capital, ... Read more »

Amid Covid-19 surge, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya to host review meet with 5 states today

© Provided by DNA Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will virtually review the COVID-19 situation, public health preparedness as well as response measures being taken in the context of the ... Read more »

New Funding: Moglix valuation doubles to $2.6 billion

© Provided by The Financial Express Moglix was founded in 2015 by IIT Kanpur alumnus and ISB graduate Rahul Garg. The platform facilitates procurement of industrial goods equipment and MRO ... Read more »

Britain's Got Talent hopeful in 'medical emergency as he slashes head open in audition'

There was a “medical emergency” at a recent audition for Britain’s Got Talent involving an icebreaker act, it is reported. The new series of the ITV talent competition began filming ... Read more »

Cole Anthony fined US$25,000 for derogatory remarks toward ref

© Provided by SPIN.ph NEW YORK — Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony has been fined $25,000 (around P1.2 million) by the NBA for directing profane and derogatory remarks toward a ... Read more »

Akibat tak dengar nasihat Tok Guru

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today Artikel ini saya tulis didorong tuduhan terbaharu Presiden PAS Abdul Hadi Awang bahawa Umno melakukan “benda tidak bermoral dan tak betul”. Abdul Hadi semalam ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic