The Financial Express

Omicron and difficult choice to make

Omicron and difficult choice to make

The biggest challenge of the day for humanity at large is evidently the Coronavirus pandemic. When people across the world, after an 18-month-long ruthless lashing by the Covid-19, were just about to recover from the shocks of the pandemic and resume normal life, a new variant of the virus with the name Omicron has begun to sweep across the world reportedly at a speed four times faster than the previous one.

Transmissibility rate of Omicron-- compared to its forerunner, Delta variant--is unbelievably very high. Countries like the USA, the UK, the European countries and India have been witnessing a record surge to the extent of 300,000 to 700,000 cases of infection a day in the recent days. Only the other day, the world witnessed a record-high infection of 3.6 million cases in a single day. The way the mutant virus is spreading in its latest form, small wonder if this record is there only to be broken sooner than later.

  According to official reports, 5.7 million people have so far died of corona and another about 340 million infected around the world. Recent research by some independent international agencies suggests this figure is much higher than officially reported. Earlier, the statistics issued from the WHO or other agencies assimilating data from governments of the affected countries did not include India because they were suspicious of the reliability of their reports.

  Now, after several independent surveys, their suspicion stands. The Indian government reported death of 4.8 lakh (0.48m) people from corona. According to the recent study by the international agencies on India's corona situation, the corona death toll in India might well be around 32 lakh (3.2 m).

 People are at a loss as to what to do, so are the governments. They are in a dilemma as to whether they should follow the instructions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and over again go back to a tortuous life of isolation or resume normal life taking the impact of this virus as fait accompli.  The dilemma is based on two counts: one is health and the other is economy. You have to care for health and at the same time livelihood of the people for their survival.

  How to deal with such a complex situation is a million-dollar question for any country, be it a rich or a poor one. After more than one and a half years of economic stagnation following the Covid-19 pandemic, when even the richest countries in the world were facing the threat of a  deep economic recession, the emergence of the new variant, Omicron, is considered by many as the last nail in the coffin of a rebound.

 To understand the possible impact of the pandemic on the economy of the poor countries like ours does not require the knowledge of rocket science. People have already started feeling the bite to their daily life. The recent study by the international financial organizations of the world suggests that the overall economic inflation in the world is at the moment around 25 per cent on average, pushing the cost of living beyond the common  man's means. They are compelled to reduce their food intake and lower the standard of living in order to cope with the situation. But, how far they can compromise before reaching a do-or-die situation is a question nobody can answer.

  The biggest and the most pressing challenges for the world  today are: Coronavirus, economy and climate change, one influencing the other. Given the appreciable vaccination progress around the world and the mild nature of the Omicron, in spite of its spread at a jet speed, it might well be the right choice to give equal, if not more, attention to the economic front.

  It must be borne in mind that, at present , more than 20 per cent of people of the world, mostly from the third-world countries, including Africa and South Asia, are facing hunger and many among them are dying every day, not to mention millions of children inching towards premature death or disability from hunger and acute malnutrition.

  It is the responsibility of the world leaders to do all that is necessary to save humanity from the impending catastrophe resulting from the brutal aggression by the invisible enemies like coronavirus and climate change.

 Bangladesh as a poor country of 170 million people living in an area of 148,000 square kilometers with per-capita income of USD 2500, located in the lower riparian of the Ganges delta, despite remarkable progress on several social and economic fronts in the recent years under the able leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is precariously vulnerable to economic downslide and climate change.

 Although the country has so far managed well the issue of handling  coronavirus pandemic and economic activities, despite all the odds it had to confront, it may not be the same in the days ahead against the backdrop of the new variant, Omicron, and the turbulent sociopolitical situation worldwide.

  Education in the country has been the worst-hit sector due to the pandemic. The schools and colleges have again been closed for two weeks with effect from 22 January 2022 because of  the surge of the new variant. The students have already lost two calendar years due to the Covid-19 malaise. They may have to lose further one or two semesters, if not more, under the present circumstances.

  Trade and business houses, especially the small and medium-scale industries that employ almost two-thirds of the country's  total workforce, are already brought to their knees by the pandemic. Further shutdown or restrictions will only mean total extinction from business, rendering millions of people jobless.  We cannot afford a situation like that. Let's hope for the best but prepare for the worst.


Capt. Hussain Imam is a retired merchant mariner.

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