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Will Omicron be the End of the Pandemic in England?

Since the WHO announced the existence of this new variant, the virus has spread throughout the world at great speed and has created new questions.

Several people wearing face masks during a meeting

Photo: Freepik

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

The Omicron variant seems to be opening a new stage of the pandemic, since it is expected that, due to its high rate of contagion, it will cause a large part of the population to become infected in the coming months. In fact, it is estimated that by March, 60% of the European population will have already been infected with the coronavirus.

In this sense, Hans Kluge, regional director of the WHO in Europe, pointed out that there is a plausible hope of stabilization. However, he also assured that "the pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful that we can end the emergency phase in 2022."

Continuing with the case of Europe, this variant already represents 38% of COVID-19 cases. The United Kingdom is one of the countries that has reported the most cases. To date, about 430 cases of the BA.2 variant, a subtype of Omicron, have been confirmed. Despite this, in recent weeks, Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, has indicated that since January 27th, several of the restrictions to control the pandemic in England will end.

In fact, the use of the mask will no longer be mandatory, not even in classrooms, nor the vaccination pass in places or events. In addition, the government no longer recommends the Home Office as an option to curb contagion. Likewise, a PCR test will no longer be required to enter the British Isles, if the complete vaccination schedule is available. However, the secretary of health, Sajid Javid, pointed out that it is not about the end of Covid-19 but about learning to live with this disease as has been done with colds, for example. Denmark has also announced that on January 31st it will end its restrictions.

The strategy seems to be to allow people to get infected, since there is a high percentage of immunization by vaccination, to achieve the so-called herd immunity and thus have a period of relative calm, without high peaks, which allows to focus the efforts of different way towards the coronavirus, to treat it as a stationary disease.

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However, this approach, which the Boris Jhonson government had already tried to apply at the beginning of the pandemic, has been criticized. The Royal College of Nursing stated that these are measures of political convenience, but do not take into account health services. "We cannot rely on the vaccine alone when the situation remains so precariously balanced." Experience has shown that it is an unpredictable virus, however, countries with more resources are increasingly better prepared to face the challenges. The scientific community has pointed out that vaccines can be adapted to the new variants that arise, especially those of RNA.

With the majority of the population vaccinated or recovered, and with less aggressive variants such as Omicron, the countries are thinking of establishing surveillance systems for the disease and approaching it as has been done with other respiratory infections. However, the big problem is that more global efforts are required to ensure that everyone has the same conditions and can be immunized. In this regard, the WHO said in a statement that: “although Omicron offers a plausible hope of stabilization and normalization, our work is not finished. Huge disparities in access to vaccines continue to exist.

The objective of the international community continues to be that health systems are not saturated. However, now there remains the great challenge of returning with great efforts the treatments to other diseases that have been neglected by the pandemic.