✦ Cast your mind back to late 2019.
Perhaps, if Australia-based, you were enjoying the early onset of another glorious summer, basking in the warm sunshine and looking forward to a fun-filled festive season with friends, family and loved ones. No doubt this is exactly how it panned out and everything seemed fine in the world. Smiles for miles!
However, a dark and worrying phenomena was stirring elsewhere that, ultimately, would unleash havoc on the entire world, crippling economies, inducing sickness and claiming millions of lives while completely changing the way in which we lived our lives, for a period and possibly forever.
The exact origins of COVID-19 are still debated by some but recent studies published in the journal Science tend to prove without doubt that it originated in the wet markets of Wuhan, China where irresponsible management of the wildlife trade suggests the virus jumped from animals to humans and – well, you know the rest and how the story unfolds.
Back to the present day and where we do we stand exactly in regards to the pandemic that literally brought the world to its knees? Well, quite simply, the answer really does depend on where you are based. Every country handled the onset of the virus in different ways, some proving more effective than others and subsequently a myriad of different rules still pervade.
A New Normal
Thankfully the majority of the world’s population have managed to get back to a level of normality in their daily lives, even if not entirely in certain places – a new normal if you like. Being able to conregate again, cross borders and embark on international travel was a huge relief to many who felt the claustrophobia brought about by enforced lockdowns a little too much.
Regaining access to public spaces such as bars, restaurants, gyms, etc was equally welcomed by many who really felt the anti-social bite of the restrictions. Sure, we are lucky to live in an age where technology allows us to still maintain contact without leaving our homes but the tactile feeling of face-to-face contact cannot be beaten for most. However, many of the world’s workforce continues to tread the work-from-home mantra as company’s are still wary and aware of their responsibility of keeping staff protected and healthy.
Facemasks, for so long the bane of so many, became a thing of the past in most places, where obligatory use was disbanded. In certain places, however, many people choose to continue wearing them, just in case. Thailand is one example whereby faces covered by masks in public places in still very much commonplace.
However, that’s not to say it was all plain sailing. We saw in Europe, and in particular the UK, how holiday makers endured nightmare experiences at airports who were terribly understaffed and underprepared. Many airlines and airport operators had either let staff go during the worst of the pandemic or workers had chosen to leave of their own accord rather than risk heading into work and possible infection. An inability to recruit or correctly train replacement staff saw chaos at many airports, with lost luggage and cancelled flights a worrying trend.
Going by the statistics published on the Worldometer coronavrius page on Aug 5, a total of 587,008,542 cases of COVID-19 have been tracked and logged worldwide since the outbreak. Estimates suggest this figure is much higher due to unreliable data and numerous countries not detecting or recording accurate tallies. Without a shadow of a doubt, that figure will be higher still by the time you read this, higher furthermore if you recheck tomorrow, and so on. As of the same date there have been close to 6.5 million COVID-related deaths globally, again a figure that is debatable, arguably higher and that will rise day-on-day.
The United States has by far the highest number of infected cases and attributed deaths at 93,739,666 and 1,057,811 respectively. India is in second place with roughly half the numbers of the USA. France is the hardest hit of the European nations with approximately 34 million cases and 152,457 deaths. Australia stands in 14th place in the chart with just over 9.5 million cases and 12,201 deaths.
The fact China sits in 109th place with just 230,000 cases and 5,226 recorded deaths suggests advocates of aforementioned unreliable data and suspect transparency are on to something as it seems genuinely implausible for the world’s most populous nation where the virus first originated to have such low figures. If nothing else it tells you much about how the country operates, particularly in regards to its honesty, transparency and accountability. The irony is not lost that the country that tried to hide the outbreak, then fabricate the truth, is now on “Zero-COVID” watch - severe lockdowns have been enforced on many of China’s major cities and it is one of the very few countries where restrictions remain in place and travel and certain trade is banned, which is seriously hampering its economy.
Perhaps the adoption of a failed vaccination campaign goes someway to explaining China’s current plight. The Xi Jingping communist-led government insisted on only Chinese made vaccines to be distributed among its vast numbers of people. This meant the likes of Sinovac and Sinopharm which, ultimately, proved to be less than 50% effective at warding off the virus or minimising the chance of serious illness. The government has so far refused to approve and import foreign made vaccines, claiming they maintain unwaivering faith in their doemstic versions.
Elsewhere, throughout much of the world, successful vaccination campaigns mean that, even though new cases of COVID-19 are increasing again, the number of deaths are not, in relative terms. As of Aug 5 close to 85% of the population of Australia had been vaccinated, around 21.7 million people. Soon at-risk children as young as six months will be able to receive a jab after the nation’s expert vaccine advisory body gave the Moderna vaccine the green light, reports news.com.au.
Don’t drop your guard
These vaccination numbers and results are, of course, a good thing. However, whereas our daily routines may have returned to resemble something at least similar to what they were before, we shouldn’t be caught off guard. COVID-19 mighn’t be dominating the front pages of the newpapers or the nightly TV news headlines but don’t be fooled, it is still very much there and still very much disrupting lives around the world.
Omicron came and went and many felt a sense of relief that the relatively weak variant did not wreak the levels of havoc originally anticipated. However, BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 soon emerged, with the latter, considered the most infectious and transmissible variant identified so far, responsible for driving the latest wave of infections. BA.5 has three key mutations in its spike protein that make it both better at evading immunity and causing reinfection. CNN reported on July 18 that the BA.5 subvariant is causing almost two out of every three new COVID-19 infections in the US. Likewise the World Health Organization states that about half of all coronavirus cases globally are now caused by this variant.
What is certain is that the variants will continue to mutate. The latest one that experts have detected is known as BA.2.75 which has about 11 changes compared with BA.5. Although information on this new variant is currently relatively limited, it has been detected in about 10 countries so far, seems to be growing particularly quickly in India and has the hallmarks of a variant that could go global, say experts.
In conclusion, and as alluded to earlier, the COVID situation really does depend on where you are based or where you may be headed. Be aware of the rules and precautions enforced and respect them, be it locally or wherever you may be travelling to, nationally or overseas. We’re not quite through the woods yet but for now, without being complacent, many of us are just relieved that the worst does seem to be over and we can get on with our lives again, even if it may not completely resemble how it was before the pandemic. Regaining basic freedoms once again feels good and has made most of us value what is important in life. Experts advise us to continue maintaining caution and to exercise exemplary hygiene standards which, ultimately, can’t be a bad thing - if any sort of “positives” are to come from the COVID nightmare we have all endured then maybe this can be one of them. Because none of us want to go back to those dark days of lockdown ever again...
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