Omicron: do we need new Covid strategies?

The new Covid variant Omicron which was first discovered in South Africa has the world on tenterhooks again. Despite the swift introduction of travel restrictions, several cases of the new variant have already been detected in Europe. It remains unclear how effective vaccines are against it. Europe's press reflects a consensus that this latest scare is a result of the neglect of poorer countries in the fight against Covid.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

South Africa must not be punished for transparency

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung demands support for South Africa:

“If the rainbow nation suffers severe long-term economic damage because it gave the rest of the world early warning, this will send a clear signal. ... Other countries will then think twice about with whom to share information about potential new coronavirus variants . ... To prevent this, two things are necessary. First, the flight bans now imposed must only be maintained for as long as they make epidemiological sense. ... Second, in the light of its exemplary transparency, South Africa must be supported - in managing the health crisis, but also financially if need be.”

Ethnos (GR) /

Vaccinating all of Africa would be cost-effective

Africa is being left in the lurch, Ethnos criticises:

“In Africa only 6.5 percent of the population have had their second jab. The WHO estimates that with 50 billion dollars worth of vaccines all poor countries could be vaccinated. That's a pittance compared to the costs industrialised countries have incurred due to Covid-19, which are estimated at 3 trillion per year. In other words, the required amount is minimal: just 1.6 percent of the damage developed countries have suffered. Yet no one understands this imperative and there is no hope that it can be achieved. Initiatives on the part of individual institutions or countries - such as the 150,000 doses of vaccine that Greece sent to Ghana - are laudable, but they won't solve the problem.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Release the vaccine patents!

The vaccines should be made much more affordable, says El Periódico de Catalunya:

“In view of the worrying situation, the time has come to implement for example US President Joe Biden's proposal of a few months ago to temporarily release patents on vaccines in order to facilitate their distribution or to manufacture at prices that countries with fewer resources can afford. ... Because the pandemic is a collective challenge that we cannot avoid. ... Any course other than adopting prudent measures, two years after the outbreak of the pandemic in the West, could jeopardise all that has been achieved so far at great human and material cost.”

Jornal de Notícias (PT) /

Rich countries either immoral or dumb

Jornal de Notícias denounces the attitude of the rich countries in the pandemic:

“If at some point the course of this pandemic is analyzed, it will be difficult to decide whether it was the immorality of the rich countries or their stupidity that was decisive when they completely ignored the epidemiological situation of the weaker ones. ... Every single warning from the scientists about mutations of the virus has been met with politicians' fears about the next elections and the disinterest of society. Like opulent and capricious children, the rich world has a monopoly on diagnoses, treatments and vaccines. And what's more its citizens also enjoy the luxury of being able to take to the streets and demand the freedom to live infected.”

La Stampa (IT) /

There is room for manoeuvre

If we don't want to chase the virus, we must act with foresight, warns virologist Antonella Viola in La Stampa:

“For example, by assessing how to use the vaccines at our disposal most effectively at the global level, in other words, looking at whether it makes more sense to give 20-year-olds in Europe three doses of the vaccine or to ensure that the virus circulates less around the world. Or by asking for a temporary suspension of patents so we can produce more and meet all needs without too much compromise. Or by using military budgets to show solidarity and buy vaccines for those who can't afford them instead of new weapons.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Too much for the health minister to handle alone

It's time for measures that do justice to the dimensions of the pandemic, De Volkskrant insists:

“We need an effort comparable to the Delta Works [Dutch system of dams and flood defences]. First of all, the capacities of intensive care units must be greatly increased to prevent the Netherlands from having to go into lockdown too quickly every time. ... We need unconventional measures. That's expensive, but so are lockdowns. ... This can probably only be achieved by appointing special representatives with clear responsibilities and far-reaching powers who can work outside existing decision-making structures.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Moral failure of the rich countries

It is no coincidence that the new Covid variant has emerged in the south of Africa, says the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

“For months, the rich North has been talking about global solidarity, about the pandemic not being over until it has been defeated everywhere. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, just over five percent of the population has been vaccinated ... . The low vaccination rate [is mainly] due to the fact that for a long time the rich countries hoarded the doses, leaving the poor with little to nothing. ... This is a moral failure of societies that are so fond of telling others what they are doing wrong. If South Africa had received enough vaccines earlier, the mutant might not have emerged.”

Novi list (HR) /

Play it safe

What we need now is caution and more information, writes Novi list:

“Will all states have to impose mass lockdowns and restrictions once again, as they did last spring when they saw no other alternative in their fear of the unknown? This question is currently on the minds not only of citizens, but also of experts and politicians. No one yet knows what health consequences Omicron will cause, because scientists still don't have enough information. ... As long as this remains unclear, caution on the part of experts and doctors - who are stepping up measures against the new variant - is completely justified.”

Karar (TR) /

Poison for the economy

The first reports of Omicron have already done significant damage to the economy, observes Karar:

“The mere possibility of new lockdown measures caused the price of oil to drop by ten percent in one day. This drop in prices was caused by expectations that consumer confidence will fall as the epidemic worsens, slowing production and thus reducing energy demand. ... Will these expectations be fulfilled? Judging by the first announcements, the situation is not too rosy. It's like we're caught in a vicious circle: the vaccination rate is increasing, the epidemic is slowing down. But as soon the wheels of the economies begin to turn again and we start talking about getting back to normal, a new variant emerges and it's back to square one again.”