LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Omicron, its effects and our performance so far

SOUNDS more like a TV series than a worldwide disease, but because the latest Covid variant is so different in many ways the authorities have given it a new name. So what do the public know about it so far?

Firstly, it is far more infectious than previous variants, and so is far more easily caught and spread, making common sense measures such as masks, hand washing and social distancing that much more important. Secondly, so far it has been far less deadly than previous variants, so both the symptoms and the infection are generally less virulent.

But I repeat, so far, because the World Health Organisation have stressed that the new variant is so versatile that future variants could rapidly evolve in any direction be it spread, potency or resistance to treatment, so complacency is definitely out.

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And how’s the UK doing? At the time of writing we have a quarter of a million confirmed cases of Omicron and rising, and that before the Government insistence on opening the Covid spreading system, sorry, I should have said schools. And despite being described as less virulent we still have people dying, the current average being around 150 to 160 per day, 56,000 a year if the daily numbers don’t also increase, though whether these are from the latest variant or remains of the previous one we’re unsure. There are also the increasing number of Covid cases that go on to develop Long Covid, a debilitating and disabling extension of the disease that affects the sufferer in a variety of ways for years and possibly life, and whose permanent effects are still unknown.

Still the present medical advice for defeating the pandemic is for everyone ten years old and over to be given both doses of approved vaccine plus booster (although a little worryingly both people I know who have caught the Omicron variant were fully vaccinated).

A fellow writer a few weeks ago wrote of a couple of nations who tried a well known veterinary worm disease treatment against Covid, but as both countries have rapidly dropped the method I think we can discount it as a valid preventative. In fact the only person to lay claim to have been cured by it is Donald Trump.

Another problem could be the number of nurses, medical staff and care workers are included in the present Covid infection figures, so with the NHS already overstretched through decades of cuts at the start of the pandemic in 2020, the disastrous performance of the privatised NHS Procurement Division, the loss of many overseas medical and nursing staff to Brexit regulations, and the present few and expensive training colleges for replacements, the full staffing of our hospitals and treatment centres could be an increasing problem.

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A further matter of extreme concern, not related to Covid but exacerbated by it, is the six million plus number of hospital patients now awaiting operations of varying urgency, many for several years.

Should any of these delays eventually result in the early death or permanent disablement of the patient these casualties will not of course be counted in the pandemic numbers, but one wonders how many of such results would not have happened had the NHS been as effective as before Margaret Thatcher’s statement “The NHS is safe with us”, and the inexorable decline in the service since.

I am also reminded that the present variant started in Africa, one of two continental areas starved of vaccines by the present supply system, and of the often quoted saying “nobody is safe until we are all safe”. Currently the number of inhabitants of these areas to receive even one dose of vaccine is between four and 14 per cent.

A large number of countries have now joined the original two in calling for the TRIPS patents on Covid vaccines to be suspended to allow other laboratories to manufacture the doses needed to fill the huge void between supply and requirement, but the move is still being vetoed by four nations, our own UK supported by Norway, Germany, and Switzerland, so Africa and Central America continue to be vast pits of unprotected people on which the pandemic can develop new and ever improved variants that may one day be able to overcome our present defences.

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In the meantime our UK government, the people by whose actions the world judges us all, have ordered a further 650 million doses of vaccine from eight manufacturers, has donated a mere five million doses, just seven per cent of our commitment to date, to COVAX, the organisation charged with supplying vaccines to Third World countries, out of the 100 million promised, (yes I know that on December 14 last Sajid Javid told Parliament that we had delivered 20 million doses and promised 100 million by next June, but I’m using COVAX’s own official figures), have taken 500,000 doses back out of COVAX, the only G7 nation to do so, and destroyed 66,000 doses that we had stored until they were out of time, rather than pass them on while they were still viable

Meanwhile, since the new Omicron variant has emerged, no less than eight Pfizer and Moderna investors have become $10 billion dollars richer.

Charles David Foulstone, Rotherham Green Party