Living with Covid

JUST as we were thinking that Covid-19 pandemic is on its way out, its resurgence in China and Hong Kong has taken the world by surprise. Nearly 30 million people have been put under lockdown across China, as surging virus cases prompted the return of mass tests and health officials to city streets on a scale not seen since the start of the pandemic.

China reported 5,280 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, more than double the previous day's tally, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads across a country that has, so far, stuck to a "zero-Covid" strategy. But this time China is finding itself struggling to reign in the new outbreak. Although Omicron has turned out to be milder than the Delta variant, it is several times more transmissible. So, its outbreak is difficult to control immediately. At the same time, the spread of Omicron infections doesn’t take a toll on the healthcare infrastructure as hospitalizations are fewer and far between. But not necessarily so.

Hong Kong has witnessed a sudden steep spike in cases since December despite being the country least affected by the pandemic over the last two years. Officially, there have been more than 740,000 cases since late December, out of a population of 7.4 million. But researchers at the University of Hong Kong have estimated that 3.6 million people - almost half the population - have contracted the virus. The country has also recorded 4000 deaths, mostly among the elderly, which is the world’s highest per capita rate. Similar outbreaks but on a smaller scale have been reported in places like Singapore and New Zealand, which effectively means that the Covid-19 pandemic is not going anywhere.

This brings us to the question of the future of the Covid-19 virus. Over the last two years, the world has been through several successive waves of the pandemic which have infected millions and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. With the abating of the Omicron wave in India which broke out early this year, there was now a sense of relief across the world. The economies are re-opening. There is a realization that the worst is over and the pandemic is gradually on its way out.

But is it really so, going by the fresh outbreaks in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zeeland? Not necessarily. The virus is still potent enough to cause widespread havoc. As of now, it is difficult to imagine what future shape the virus will take. Whether herd immunity will save us? Whether the virus will become endemic in some milder form like our everyday cold. Or whether deadlier variants of the virus are on their way. The current situation in China and Hong Kong gives little cause for confidence. For now, there is no other way to safeguard ourselves but to continue to follow the Standard Operating Procedures.

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