by Dr Arshed Iqbal Dar

Omicron has been declared the fastest spreading virus known to humankind.

A Kashmiri doctor in protective gear takes a nasal swab sample of a village woman to test for COVID-19 in Budgam on May 18, 2021. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The most common mutual service in the more socially developed animals is to warn one another of danger. They do it by means of the united senses of all. One of the lessons to be learned from climate change, biodiversity loss, urban sprawl, ethnic conflicts, and economic down-turns is that when we abuse or neglect fauna and flora, we also harm ourselves in the process. Virtually, everyone knows the phrase, nature red in tooth and claw.

As Lord Tennyson’s sentiments are nature is blind to our personal hopes and feelings. She doesn’t play favourites. Similarly, George Williams explains in an essay Mother Nature is a Wicked Old Witch that planet earth was not formed to be an agreeable place for humankind (or any other creature) to live with. We and all other organisms have had to work hard to adapt to the Earth’s geological belching and thrusting, harsh temperatures and climate regimes. In Williams words, organisms adapt to their environment, and not vice-versa.

According to WHO, Omicron is the fastest spreading Covid19 variant yet and has been declared as the fastest spreading virus known to humankind. This new variant was first detected in specimens collected on November 11, 2021, in Botswana and on November 14, 2021, in South Africa. On November 26, 2021, WHO named the B.1.1.529 Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern (VOC). The United States designated Omicron as a Variant of Concern on November 30, 2021. This highly mutated variant has caused alarm among scientists and is widely expected to become dominant because of its high transmissibility.

Some virologists claim that the omicron variant could act as a natural vaccine. Many scientists have backed this idea that omicron will act as a natural vaccination and may help in its Covid19 progression towards an endemic stage.

Many other virologists have depicted in their preprints that omicron is less pathogenic showing less severe clinical signs (weight loss), less viral load in both upper and lower respiratory tract than prior Covid19 variants in Syrian golden hamsters. Alex Sigal- South Africa based virologist has clearly mentioned in Nature Reviews Immunology in accordance with Bentley et al.,2021 and McMahanet al., 2022 that omicron infection causes milder lung pathology. Lower viral pathogenicity and higher population immunity do not have to exclude one another.

Omicron leads to less severe disease due to pre-existing immunity and if the viral component is as important as it seems, then the question is, what kind of Covid19 variant will we get next? The emergence of another major variant of concern is highly probable as the virus has proven it can evolve to escape immunity in the current climate of infection.

However, many other scientists have dismissed the claims of omicron becoming a natural vaccine and it is too early to assume anything rather one must stay on guard and take all necessary measures and letting guards down in the face of a variant that appears to be infecting everyone is very dangerous to more vulnerable lot of people including elderly and immune-compromised.

Karen Edwards, an epidemiologist at the University of California says more interactions between potentially infected people will give the virus more pathways to spread and if we had a variant that caused severe disease like Delta variant and was as transmissible as omicron, we would not want to see that.

Dr Arshed Iqbal Dar (Islamia College)

On the other side of this long-term containment, lockdowns and resultant economic collapse, millions of workers in India are not covered by contracts and protections, stunted growth of children, malnutrition, and malediction, are the factors pregnant with catastrophe and will definitely intensify the Covid-19 storm. This worrying dreadful situation will become even more grave if diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening conditions is interrupted and how long physical distancing, lockdowns will have to stay in place is a big question for countries riddling with socio-economic and developmental challenges.

Last, but not least, we need globally connected medical research, legitimate dissemination of knowledge at the right time, and a cooperative society to combat these factors which are pregnant with catastrophe.

(Author teaches Zoology at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce, Srinagar. The opinions expressed in this write-up are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the views of Kashmir Life.)


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