In the first month of 2022, we detected some positive signs, both abroad and at home (in Indonesia) as there is growing evidence that the Omicron variant is encouraging strong herd immunity around the world, while not making too many people ill to the extent that they require hospitalization.
In Denmark – right at the start of February 2022 – the government scrapped all laws and regulations related to COVID-19, and so the country might be the first developed nation that completely goes back to normal. Even in case someone tests positive for COVID-19 in Denmark, he/she will not need to opt for self-isolation. In other words, the virus is now allowed to run through the population as it is basically regarded a ‘common cold’ (moreover, because of its contagiousness, it would be impossible to use restrictions to prevent the spread of Omicron in Danish society).
It might seem like a risky decision to many, especially at a time when new confirmed COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in Denmark, but the data over the past two months certainly suggest that it is time to lift restrictions. After all, as we have emphasized in earlier reports, the concept of ‘public health’ is much wider than the fight against COVID-19 alone. Excess mortality that is found in countries like the Netherlands in 2021 (of which only part is directly linked to COVID-19 casualties by the authorities) should make us concerned – and reassess – public policies, certainly now COVID-19 has evolved into a milder virus (than earlier variants like Delta or Alpha).
So, over the coming weeks, the world should be closely following developments in Denmark because if it can fully open without experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, it essentially gives the green light for other nations to follow suit (provided Omicron is the dominant variant).
We are now optimistic that 2022 will become the year in which most countries can lift most (or all) restrictions, effectively returning to normal, which would be great news for social and economic development.
What also will be interesting to follow is what will happen to the national COVID-19 vaccination programs across the world if Denmark shows positive results. Letting Omicron run through populations might be a more effective and cheaper (and – who knows – a safer) option than the current vaccination programs. So, will governments continue to push for the immunization of all people above 5 years of age, or, will they start focusing on those groups that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions and/or old age (a COVID-19 jab would then be similar to the flu shot that is typically given to elderly in the West ahead of winter time).
Considering, governments are already committed to tens of billions of dollars’ worth of purchase agreements with Pfizer and Moderna for vaccine deliveries in 2022, it might not be the end of national vaccination programs for almost entire populations (although – hopefully – these purchase agreements include a stipulation that makes the agreement non-binding in case the COVID-19 pandemic ends).
But even in case, hypothetically, all restrictions are lifted around the world in 2022 it does not mean that we are back to normal. Some significant damage has been done in terms of polarization, poverty, disrupted education, and fearmongering that will require years, perhaps even a generation, to (hopefully) heal.
Richard van der Schaar
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