Omicron has arrived

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With the coronavirus again spreading at the fastest pace in about six months, it’s clear that the Omicron variant has well and truly arrived in Pakistan. And while it may be true that it spreads faster but isn’t as deadly as other strains, that doesn’t change the fact that the spread alone will suffice to put the country’s healthcare infrastructure under more pressure than it can sustain, with its own spillover effects, and also bring the economy right back to its knees at the most inopportune time possible. The NCOC (National Command and Operations Centre) did the right thing by raising a red flag before this wave arrived at our shores, but most people did not take the warning too seriously and as a result it is once again spreading like wildfire.
The national positivity rate crossed 3.65 percent this week, which means that every person with the virus is now a threat to at least three or four others, which in turn implies a geometric progression that will become too much to handle very soon. Yet it doesn’t seem that the average person on the street is too concerned about this prospect at the moment. For, even now most people are seen without masks, and there’s hardly any place where social safety protocols are being followed voluntarily or enforced forcefully. This behaviour puts the government in something of a fix. It can hardly do more than issue timely warnings, identify hot spots by use of real time data, and tell people which lines cannot be crossed. It can’t, of course, keep an eye on all people at all times. But when surveys reveal that about 30 percent of the country’s population believes that the virus is already gone, there’s little people in government can do but throw up their own hands in frustration.
Perhaps the greatest failure of the government, despite the NCOC’s impressive performance, has been its inability to erect an over-arching national narrative about the virus. That explains why it hasn’t yet put the fear of God in most people. Hopefully the NCOC will make the government address this oversight sooner rather than later.