If news reports are anything to go by, the “highly transmissible” Omicron variant of the Coronavirus can wreak havoc on a world already fatigued by continuous lockdowns and disruptions to economic and social activities. Moreover, with the holiday season approaching in the West, Christmas and New Year revelers and their vacation plans would be thrown into jeopardy with the arrival of the predicted Third Wave. Already, Europe is doubling down on restricting tourism to fully vaccinated holiday goers, and with the Omicron variant “eluding” antibodies, vaccination is no guarantee against infection, thereby causing more chaos and confusion as the New Year approaches. Indeed, the Omicron variant is the last thing a weary and wary world would like, given that most nations worldwide have just been emerging from the never ending nightmare of curtailed economic, political, and social activities.
In India, the arrival of the Third Wave can throw the entire country out of gear, what with the nascent economic recovery threatened and with the social fabric frayed and the social contract in danger. Let me explain how the Third Wave would impact on each of the above aspects. The Indian Economy, like that of other nations, has just been limping back to “normal” and the Third Wave can seriously put in question any gains that have been made so far, as well as shrink incomes and deplete savings. Next, the forced isolation and the quarantining have had a deleterious impact on the mental health and the social interactions of Indians, making us more prone to violent outbursts, increase in the incidence of domestic violence, skyrocketing crime, and rising suicide rates. This is tearing the social fabric apart and any further disruptions can be nightmarish for all of us.
The Third Wave can also lead to the breaking down of the social contract. As we have seen during the Second Wave, unprepared health infrastructure can lead to chaos and confusion god forbid anyone needs hospitalization. With no clear picture on whether we have learnt the lessons from the “brutal” Second Wave, one can only shudder as to what would happen in case of a Third Wave. Moreover, as pointed out earlier, the Omicron variant “evades” protections due to vaccinations which puts paid to the much vaunted celebration of vaccination rates and coverage percentages becoming meaningless. Indeed, if the past experience is anything to go by, the Third Wave would be well and truly the real McCoy. In addition, the likelihood of children and teens as well as young adults bearing the brunt due to any possible infections raises the likelihood of more chaos.
With this backdrop, it is also worth referring to the prevailing political situation worldwide. Most of the political elite worldwide are busy politicking instead of governing and this increases the chance of a tardy governmental response to the Third Wave. Moreover, Indian politicos are in campaign mode for the upcoming state elections, leaving them with little time to attend to pressing matters of governance and preparations for the anticipated Third Wave. As it is, India is on the boil due to sectarian, linguistic, religious, social, and ethnic tensions, and when the Third Wave strikes, we would be pretty much on our own, with the state absent and the health systems overburdened, leading to the breaking down of the social contract. Indeed, if not anything, the Third Wave could result in all out civil war in the country, with the frayed tempers, frazzled nerves, and the lack of support from the government and the societal stakeholders exacerbating existing fault lines in the country.
Last, while all this might seem like “gloom and doom”, I would suggest comparing what I wrote here, before the Second Wave and check back with what actually happened. So, here I am with more of such doom saying, though, I hope to be proved “wrong rather than right”. The whole point about the Omicron variant is the huge number of “unknowns” that makes it hard for anyone to predict what can happen next. The virus “escapes” detection, evades antibodies, though causing milder infections and at the same time, spreads through the air, instead of from person to person, leading to herd infections. To conclude, we are on the cusp of a Third Wave, leaving us as clueless as we were at the beginning of the pandemic.
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