Exiting the Pandemic

James Van Zorge
James Van Zorge, A Business consultant in Indonesia that has worked for the Harvard Institute for International Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, McKinsey & Co., and A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Institute. He completed his BA in International Relations, summa cum laude, at the State University of New York at Albany, and he holds a Masters of Public Policy, International Economics, from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

IO – Just as the world believed it was turning the corner in the pandemic, the latest variant of concern, Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, suddenly appeared in South African and European countries. With its high number of mutations, there are valid concerns this particular variant could prolong the pandemic.

Still, there is much we don’t know about the variant: scientists are trying to figure if it is more transmissible and deadlier than other variants as well its effects on vaccine efficacy.

Even though these crucial questions remain unanswered, many governments here in Asia, Europe and the United States quickly reacted to news of the Omicron variant by imposing various types of travel bans.

Such measures might seem prudent, but as public health experts from the World Health Organization have been telling us, travel bans are not a viable solution. It is more than likely the variant is present in many countries already, and the proper policy response will not be evident for another few weeks until health officials are able to obtain data on patients taken ill by the Omicron variant and therefore assess whether or not it is more severe, equally as severe or less severe than other variants.

Of course, the worst case scenario with the Omicron variant is that it proves deadlier than other variants and current vaccines are significantly less efficacious against it. This scenario would be a complete game changer– it would create the sense of being faced with yet another pandemic for which we need to go through the all-too-familiar exercise of lockdowns, mask protocols and more rollouts of vaccinations and boosters.

All of this raises the question, is the world prepared to go through such a daunting repeat of what it endured in the earlier stages of the pandemic? From a political and economic standpoint, the answer is most certainly not. Most people are already fatigued from the pandemic, and yet more rounds of lockdowns will be met with stiff resistance as is already the case in Europe.

The only solution, one that can enable the world to exit from the pandemic, is to have governments decree vaccine mandates.. This has started to happen in some European countries such as Austria, Italy and France. It is likely to become a more widespread practice. Very simply, governments must properly weigh the costs of public health emergencies against the short-term political cost of temporarily suspending civil liberties. By doing so, the proper solution, which is to require people to get vaccinated, will help the world finally heal.