“What else could pose a grave threat?”
Just when we thought COVID-19 was about to be nearly contained worldwide with the rollout of vaccines from the United States, United Kingdom, China and Russia, among others, and more recently, the introduction of oral pills for mild cases of the deadly disease, what else could pose a grave threat to everyone’s health and sanity?
It’s the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus from South Africa and now beginning to show itself in different countries. And it looks like it’s just a matter of time before it begins to wreak further havoc on our health and on the economy.
Omicron could not have come at a worse time: we’re just starting to recover from the recent surge in cases due to the Delta variant and we’ve begun preparations for the Christmas holidays and to welcome another year.
Add to that the opening up of more sectors of the economy, including domestic tourism, and a brief respite from the prolonged confinement of families, including children and seniors in their homes.
The Omicron variant is believed to be more transmissible than Delta and could therefore in all likelihood lead to another round of lockdowns and restrictions on mobility.
What Omicron also means is that we will have to continue to bear the inconvenience of health and safety protocols such as wearing face masks and even face shields and practicing social distancing, and another episode of closure of certain businesses while the new variant again exacts a heavy toll on lives and lifestyle until it wears itself out. Up to when? We don’t really know.
Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing boards—and laboratories—for scientists and medical researchers to dissect the new variant and to come up with new vaccines and drugs that could contain the spread of COVID-19 and its variants and reduce it to nothing more than the seasonal flu or the common cold.
The development of vaccines and now oral drugs has given the world hope that life would begin to return to normal. But the fight against COVID-19 is certainly far from over. New strains of the virus will continue to emerge: we’ve had the B.1.1.7 strain (Alpha), B.1.617.2 (Kappa) and B.1.617.2 (Delta) and now B.1.1.529 (Omicron). Scientists are now undertaking genomic surveillance to control the spread of the pandemic. This will allow public health officials to track the epidemic, understand transmission routes and determine the rate of viral evolution. The dire prospect of another surge of COVID-19 infections is certain to ruin everyone’s Christmas holidays, except perhaps those who see it as another crisis that is yet another opportunity to make more money from the misfortune of others. The big pharmaceutical firms now reaping huge dividends from developing and manufacturing vaccines and drugs will of course be laughing all the way to the bank, but so will the profiteers and scammers out there eager to make a fast buck at every opportunity from the gullible or the easily deceived.
Omicron and the political season
While we’re at this, will Omicron derail the conduct of the May 2022 general elections?
With lockdowns a likely possibility once Omicron makes its presence felt on this side of the Pacific, we can expect in-person campaigns to be limited in scope, with politicians forced by circumstances to campaign using both traditional and social media platforms rather than go through the hustings, at least for the moment.
But the bigger worry in so far as our democratic system of government is concerned is the emergence of another form of political virus, which is dynasticism.
We’re seeing the virtual end of party politics as we know it and its replacement by dynastic politics aimed at ensuring that politicians from the same family or clan taking turns at public office remain in power for years and decades to come.
We’re told by no less than the highest elected official in the land that there’s nothing wrong with political dynasties, even if the 1987 Constitution specifically provides in Article II Section 26 that “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
We’ve tackled this issue not a few times in the past, but it bears repeating here. The framers of the fundamental law, aware of the gradual rise of political families since the post-war era, saw it fit to prohibit them from mutating from one generation to another, precisely to allow others to hold public office not on the basis of genetic make-up, but on integrity, competence, and track record in governance.
But certainly, we’re told, not all political dynasties are bad. There are good ones, and there are bad ones. But the latter seem to dominate our political landscape, with the good ones, already few and perhaps far between, hustled out of the picture by the proverbial guns, goods and gold.
We’re saying that political dynasties rarely equate with good governance and its hallmarks of transparency and accountability, and more often than not because they see public office as a private enterprise where profit-making rather than public service is the norm.
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